title of Ed Moloney's book is A Secret History
of the IRA (Allen Lane/Penguin £20), but
How Gerry Adams Transformed the IRA would be
more appropriate, since at least three-quarters of
it concerns his largely successful efforts to make
violence pay politically.
him or hate him, he is the dominant figure in the
making or breaking of the peace process. Without him
and his machinations, taking in the British, the Irish,
the Americans, the unionists and - especially - his
own people, the IRA might have abandoned its campaign
long ago, and the Irish question would be a lot further
from a resolution than it is.
conversion of the IRA from armed strugglers to democratic
politicians still has a long way to go, and may never
be complete, but Moloney makes a good case for arguing
that it would not have begun if a master strategist
like Adams had not emerged.
there may have been better generals, and Michael Collins
might have proved a better politician, no one has
come close to keeping both wings of republicanism
flapping in unison, to such enormous effect.
book begins with the Libyan connection and the betrayal
of the Eksund's 150-ton cargo of weapons in 1987,
which is taken as a turning point. The IRA hardliners,
who were resisting Adams's electoral strategy, were
planning a "Tet offensive", replicating
the Vietcong's winning blitzkrieg in Vietnam, but
not only was the fifth and biggest shipment followed
all the way, but even the explosive charge that was
to scuttle the ship had been sabotaged.
was either a highly-placed informer in the camp -
like the well-documented "Stakeknife" -
or British or American intelligence had woken up to
the IRA's source of supply. The war went on, but it
stumbled from one disaster to another, and the politically-minded
Sinn Fein leadership began to win the argument.
were other reasons for the militants' failure. The
much-dreaded SAM missiles, which are still in the
IRA armoury, were of Sixties vintage, with dead battery
units, and the IRA's bullets could not penetrate the
Army's new flak jackets. Even the heavy Russian machine
guns fired too slowly and needed three men to carry
as well as probable betrayal, was responsible for
the convenient destruction of the IRA's East Tyrone
brigade at Loughgall. The sheepdogs that normally
were let loose to sniff out soldiers were dispensed
with, and the likely dissidents of the future were
of the interest in the book has centred on the "disappeared"
and Moloney's assertion that Adams would have known
about the killing of suspected informers like Jean
McConville, but this is a rare accusation. Other IRA
leaders rose because of their record as "operators",
but not Adams.
he was to dominate the IRA for the next 30 years,"
writes Moloney, "there is no evidence that he
ever fired a shot in anger against the British or
their local allies." An early colleague is quoted
as saying he never met anyone who had been on an operation
with him - "he was never on a robbery, never
on a gun crew, a bombing or anything".
Moloney does not absolve him from his responsibility,
as Belfast commander and briefly as chief of staff,
during some of the worst violence. Although he was
in jail and had no part in the conception of Bloody
Friday, he is accused of being involved in its organisation.
Once Adams was convinced that more could be gained
by politics than terrorism, he was just as determined
and devious in getting his way. The old socialist
- who hesitated before joining the Provisionals in
1970 - reappeared, though never so openly as to worry
his American supporters.
the charmer, who goes out of his way to make a personal
connection with anyone he meets, Adams only occasionally
allows a glimpse of his private life or inner feelings.
When he reads another book that fails to penetrate
his bullet-proof shell, the passage that might offend
him most may be an account of his wife's arrival at
an army meeting in 1972.
present describes how she burst in, sitting on Adams's
lap and going all "kissy-kissy", stroking
his hair. What if her husband was unfaithful, she
was asked? "This is all I care about," she
replied, holding up her ring, and Adams giggled.
The only other tabloid titbit also dates back to the
early years, when an informer who was an estate agent
used to give the keys of houses for sale to IRA men.
They would use them for rendezvous with girlfriends,
presumably having their pillow talk recorded by the
was Adams's means of getting to a position of influence,
but this record shows how he used it, after some prompting,
to work for political change. There always was an
alternative, through the ballot box, but first the
IRA and Sinn Fein had to be convinced that the system
could be used to their advantage.
The hunger strikes played their part, opening up new
lines of communication with governments and tapping
a new vote, but preliminary negotiations on a peace
process can be dated back to the kidnap of a UDR man
Father Alec Reid of Clonard Monastery failed in his
attempt to save the hostage - too much security near
the scene - he was encouraged to act as go-between
with the British and Irish governments. Quietly and
without the knowledge of the IRA leadership, the message
was conveyed that a ceasefire - and therefore compromise
- was possible.
Moloney can be relied upon - and no book on the troubles
has been more deeply researched and cogently argued
- the way that Adams was able to manipulate the IRA
and Sinn Fein, against all their instincts, was nothing
short of masterful. John Hume lent respectability
and intellectual weight to the debate, but all manner
of people were involved, wheeling and dealing and
inserting lines into speeches that only insiders could
one conclusion to be drawn from the engrossing saga
is that when it comes to ending military stalemates,
nothing that anyone says should be taken at face value.
People are talking to each other, even without the
knowledge of Secretaries of State or the top leadership
of paramilitary organisations.
we be worried? Not really, so long as eventually the
facts are put to us honestly and squarely, without
the case of the Good Friday Agreement, they weren't,
which is why the current crisis has arisen. It, too,
will be overcome, in time, when someone passes the
word to someone else that so-and-so is ready to talk.
Adams foresaw where it would lead, the tactic of converting
the IRA from violence to votes, and getting governments
to ease the pain, has paid rich dividends.
has split the unionists asunder, kept the military
threat intact, and has advanced the republican cause
farther than anyone since partition. Not bad for a
boy from Ballymurphy, whom nobody trusts - with good
article is carried with permission from the author
and was first published in the Belfast Telegraph.
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