The Blanket

A balancing act
Gerry Adams is lauded for the peace he helped bring to Northern Ireland. But a new book on the Sinn Fein leader says there was nothing bloodless about his rise to power.

Martin Patriquin • Hour Magazine November 11, 2002

When 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 these days.

Adams 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.

A 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.

The 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.

It 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.

This 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.

As 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.

Moloney 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.

"Adams 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."

Moloney, 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.

In 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.

A 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.

The 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 take control.

"The 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 the business."

This 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.


For 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."

There 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."

In 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.

A 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.

"There 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.

"Whereas 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."


This article was first published in Hour Magazine and is carried with permission from the author.




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The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.
- Ayn Rand

Index: Current Articles

14 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Legacy of Seamus Costello
Liam O Ruairc


A Balancing Act
Martin Patriquin


The Legal Fictions And The Awkward Questions
Anthony McIntyre



Brian Mór



Brian Mór


Guess Who's Back

Brian Mór


Arbitrary Imprisonment

Sam Bahour and Paul de Rooij


Iraq. Palestine. Give Your Support.
Davy Carlin


The Letters page has been updated.


10 November 2002


Managing the Strategy
Breandán ó Muirthile


Remembrance Day
Billy Mitchell


Going Back To The Start
Eamonn McCann


Suffer Little Children

Anthony McIntyre


Exposing Adams' Secrets To The Light Of Day
Jim Cusack


Pinnocchio, Oh, Oh!

Brian Mór


98th Death on Hunger Strike in Turkish Prisons




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