years ago today the IRAs Belfast Brigade committed
one of the organisations most notorious acts.
The citys three battalions between them detonated
bombs throughout the Northern capital, killing nine
and injuring scores of others. It became the bleakest
day in the Provisional IRA's then barely three year
history. Few predicted in the summer of 1972 that
many bleaker were to follow.
has been an attempt in some media circles to narrow
responsibility for the bombings down to a very small
number of particular individuals - the three Belfast
republican leaders who attended the London truce talks
a number of weeks previously with William Whitelaw.
The purpose has been to allocate Gerry Adams, Seamus
Twomey and Ivor Bell the lions share of culpability
for the days events. Twomey is now dead, Bell
has had a vow of silence imposed upon him and Adams,
the only one free to speak if not speak freely, has
made it easier for his media detractors by denying
any involvement in the same breath as he gainsays
ever having been a member of the IRA. If the Sinn
Fein president expects his audience to treat each
assertion with equal respect, he must realise that
there is a certain price to be paid. No one takes
the denial of IRA membership seriously, allowing those
who are sceptical to attribute the same lack of seriousness
to his denials of involvement in the Bloody Friday
debacle. This compounded by the public profile of
Adams in contrast with the now virtual anonymity of
the other two has ensured the hot seat is his alone.
even without closer inspection, the allegations against
the three truce plenipotentaries in general and Adams
in particular seem threadbare at their strongest.
This is not to present a case for their or his innocence.
I do not know if they are. It is merely to state that
in the case of Bell and Twomey there is nothing other
than tenuous media speculation. As for Adams, his
unpersuasive denials of IRA membership are insufficient
to infer that he is unworthy of belief on other matters
such as Bloody Friday. While his total deniability
approach makes it difficult, the possibility must
still be allowed for that each component of his denials
are stand alone matters and should be treated separately.
seeking to query the evidence presented against Adams
would point to the bulk of it coming from Pete the
Para McMullen who claims to have attended meetings
with the Sinn Fein leader as he planned the coordination
of the concentrated bombing strike. McMullen is a
self-confessed informer. His version is reinforced
by media allegations that at the time Adams was adjutant
of the Belfast Brigade. Realistically, informer evidence
counts for little. Even in the Sunday papers as some
journalists are running with stories built around
McMullen's testimony Greg Harkin in today's Sunday
People claims that McMullen has signed an affadavit
refuting his original accusations against Adams. He
is quoted by Harkin as having said 'I made the whole
less central to the arguments of the critics of the
accusations against Adams, but worthy of mention nonetheless,
is the allegation that he was the adjutant of the
Belfast Brigade at the time it carried out the bombings.
They could plausibly contend that the role of the
adjutant generally is to maintain the structures of
the army rather than oversee its operations.
of this of course proves anything. What role, if any,
Adams or the others played on the day will be subject
to endless speculation and conjecture. It is thirty
years since the event and it is unlikely that even
forty years after it the public will be any the wiser
as to what really happened. What is certain is that
no tiny group of individuals should carry the responsibility
for the enormity of the carnage inflicted on a shopping
population as it went about its Friday business. It
was the responsibility of the organisation pursuing
armed struggle rather than the foibles of one or two
people. The most senior IRA leaders and strategic
planners, intelligence and operational directors,
engineers and quartermasters, hijackers and look-outs,
active service volunteers and the owners of safe houses
all armed with a blinkered doctrine of physical force
made the events of Bloody Friday possible.
responsibility was a collective one. It amounted to
a systemic breakdown resulting in the structural failure
of the IRA to prevent a civilian population being
blitzed. It was an experience from which the organisation
learned only limited lessons. That shortcoming perhaps
more so than what happened on the day was the most
appalling outcome. Out of it grew the endemic organisational
incompetence that characterised so much of the IRAs
campaign, leaving so many innocent dead in its wake.
Inexcusably, forewarned did not prove to be forearmed.
Therein lies the real culpability.
the events of Bloody Friday were the result of unmitigated
negligence rather than murderous intent. It is not
an excuse but an observation to say it was wrong,
reading on Bloody Friday: Sisyphus
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