Gerry Adams rolls into Montreal on November 10, he
comes as an elected member of the Stormont parliament
and leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the
Irish Republican Army. To those assembled to hear
him speak, much like the world at large, Adams is
a hero and a statesman. It was he that helped untangle
the knot of violence and bigotry, as well as the stalemate
that dominated Northern Ireland for over 80 years,
and brought it peace, however tenuous it might seem
fits the statesman's role to a T. Photogenic, articulate
and full of righteous conviction, it is difficult
to imagine a better spokesperson for his cause. Yet
despite all the praise he garners, Adams didn't get
to where he is because he speaks well or looks good
on television. When he takes the stage this Sunday,
he will be there because he is first and foremost
one of the better politicians the world has seen.
Secret History of the IRA, a new book by Irish
journalist Ed Moloney, serves as a timely reminder
of this. Exhaustive, practically clinical in its detail,
the book gives new insight into Adams' rise to power
and explodes certain myths surrounding the history
of the IRA.
book also details what at first blush is an unlikely
lesson for those embroiled in the current Middle East
crisis: Violence begets violence, and government repression
only serves as fodder for terrorist organizations.
has always served Gerry Adams' purpose to appear at
arm's length from the IRA. Like one of his many political
sleights of hand, Adams has always managed to keep
a foot in both camps while maintaining an air of legitimacy.
He has repeated ad nauseam that he was never directly
involved with the IRA. Rather, he served only as a
liaison between the political group and its military
counterparts. As such, he has long been able to back
up his political legitimacy in Sinn Fein with a not-so-subtle
measure of radicalism.
constitutes the biggest myth of all. Moloney takes
this scurrilous, self-serving claim to task and provides
ample evidence that Adams pursued the noble goal of
peace in large part by getting dirtied (and bloodied)
in the IRA. What's more, it wasn't only the blood
of his enemies, but that of IRA members as well.
proof, Moloney quotes several IRA sources who, for
obvious reasons, remain anonymous. They confirm what
is otherwise common knowledge in Irish and British
circles, but often overlooked by the rest of the world:
Adams was involved in, if not responsible for, much
of the IRA's actions for over a quarter century. And
for the first time, Moloney suggests Adams was in
fact responsible for the sabotaging of several key
IRA missions in order to make peace in Northern Ireland
all the more attractive.
contends that it is "inconceivable" that
Adams wasn't aware of the disappearance of Jean McConville,
a widowed mother of 10 accused of being a British
spy in 1972. That she was killed for this is no surprise,
as it amounted to treachery. What was different was
her disposal: her body wasn't dumped on the side of
the road as an obvious reminder of what happens to
traitors. Instead, McConville's body simply disappeared,
and has never been seen since.
was commander of Belfast IRA, and he ran a small secret
cell known as 'The Unknowns' whose job was to dispose
of informers or other embarrassing secrets,"
Moloney recently told Hour. "They would
kill these people, bury their bodies, 'disappear'
them in a sort of Chilean style, the argument being
that from a PR point of view it was much better that
these people disappear quietly than that their activity
be publicly revealed."
though, saves the most daring charge for last. He
suggests Adams masterminded the self-implosion of
the IRA to further the peace initiatives of Sinn Fein.
the space of a few months in 1987, the IRA weathered
three huge catastrophes, the tally of which brought
the army to the brink of oblivion. First, British
SAS pumped over 1,000 rounds into eight elite members
of the IRA. The ambush pre-empted the IRA bombing
of an unmanned police station and is the largest Republican
loss of life in over 30 years of the Troubles.
few months later, someone tipped off authorities about
an arms shipment of 150 tons of weapons destined for
IRA coffers. This further stymied the IRA's ability
to carry out attacks. Only a month later, the IRA
detonated a bomb during a Remembrance Day parade,
killing 11. The incident was condemned worldwide and
made the IRA a pariah even among some of its supporters.
The IRA had never looked worse in its long history.
three instances have long been seen as isolated, simple
examples of bad luck and ruthlessness on the part
of the IRA. Moloney, though, suggests they were in
fact part of a plan to discredit the IRA as a clumsy
violent offshoot of Catholic nationalism - a plan
that sprung from Adams himself. Had the arms cache
reached its destination, had the violent faction carried
out its bombing, or (most cynically) had those 11
people not died, the IRA would have remained in favour
with its constituency. As it stood, though, the organization
was discredited - a perfect time for Sinn Fein to
very same qualities of ruthlessness which propelled
Adams to the top of the IRA were also those qualities
that enabled him to get the peace process going,"
Moloney says. "It required a huge amount of risk,
and required a ruthless determination to do it. [The
IRA's] military campaign had to be bent and shaped
in order to suit this very secret strategy. So, on
the one hand you could say that this is a deeply unattractive
and unappealing person, but on the other hand he did
business includes going behind the backs of the IRA
Army Council and holding secret negotiations with
the hated British government, Moloney contends. He
quotes former Northern Ireland secretaries of state
Tom King and Peter Brooke, who confirm negotiations
between the two sides. In what seems like uncanny
timing, these talks between Adams and none other than
Margaret Thatcher began shortly before the catastrophic
year of 1987.
his part, Gerry Adams has staunchly denied the book's
claims, as he continues to deny his affiliation with
the IRA to this day. A Secret History, Adams
told a Guardian journalist recently, is "a
mixture of innuendo, recycled claims [and] nodding
and winking." Since the book's release a little
over a month ago, Adams now invokes a variation of
the following: "I have not been and am not a
member of the IRA."
has yet to be any concrete legal threats, however,
something Moloney takes as an endorsement of his book.
"I think they've reacted to this book with an
eloquent silence, because if they disputed any of
the facts in this book you can be sure that they would
have gone very public and very loud to make sure people
understood that, as far as they were concerned, all
sorts of mistakes had been made."
one sense it would be strange to see lawsuits emerge
over A Secret History, simply because the book
makes much of Gerry Adams' abilities. Moloney goes
so far as to compare him with Nelson Mandela during
the interview, and says he should have shared in the
Nobel Peace Prize for the Good Friday Accord, along
with John Hume and David Trimble.
Secret History is an essential read for more than
just the many revelations it provides. In detailing
the history of the IRA, Moloney has effectively drawn
a blueprint of how terrorism works. The IRA, he notes,
has never been more popular than in the times of British
subjugation. Recruitment numbers swelled during the
internment of IRA leaders, he writes, and practically
overflowed immediately after sectarian violence such
as Bloody Sunday. It is a lesson, Moloney says, that
should have been learned in the Middle East long ago.
were a lot of mistakes made in the Middle East that
weren't made in Northern Ireland," Moloney says.
"In Northern Ireland the two governments eventually
realized what Gerry Adams was about, and they decided
to do everything in their power to sustain him, to
prop him up. And now we've ended up with the IRA's
war being essentially over. There are still difficulties,
but there is no suggestion that the IRA is going to
start shooting and bombing again.
in the Middle East everything has been done to weaken
Yasser Arafat, and to weaken the peace process, and
that seems like total lunacy. I can understand why
Israelis feel this way about Arafat because Unionists
felt the same way about Gerry Adams, as someone who
is killing their people. What should have happened
in the Middle East would be a very difficult decision.
The Israelis would have to say that Arafat has the
potential to deliver peace, let's give him as much
help as we can. Instead, Sharon has gone out of his
way to isolate, weaken, and appointed people who actually
want to exile him. Imagine that happening in Northern
Ireland, if Adams was exiled by the British government.
The place would be in an uproar, and the [Catholic
population] would have an instant martyr."
article was first published in Hour
Magazine and is carried with permission from the
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