The Blanket

Managing the Strategy

Breandán ó Muirthile

There has been much commentary here and elsewhere in recent weeks about Ed Moloney’s book “Secret History of the IRA”.

What intrigued me most after reading the book was Moloney’s description of Adams as a ‘strategic genius’, especially when set against the content of the book, which is sharply critical of the Adams leadership and which makes clear the manner in which Adams has effectively hoodwinked the Provo grassroots, while leading the movement away from Republicanism and to an accommodation with British rule in Ireland.

Clearly Adams is no fool, but is he a ‘strategic genius’?

Firstly, does Adams, as a leader of Republicans, have a discernable strategy for ending British rule in Ireland? As a member of SF for several years during the unfolding of the peace process I repeatedly asked members of this leadership what was their strategy for ending British rule in Ireland. Not once, either at the time or since, was I able to discern anything remotely resembling a clearly thought-out strategy for attaining the core Republican objective of British withdrawal. Instead, like many other Republicans, I was constantly fobbed off with clichés about ‘moving the process forward’, ‘making politics work’, and ‘trusting the leadership’, the latter being another way of saying ‘Don’t ask questions, just do as you are told and leave the politics to the big boys at the top’.

If we judge the Adams’ leadership in terms of results, it is quite clear that while the electoral strength of SF as a political party may have increased, this has occurred in tandem with one defeat after another for Irish Republicanism, all of which have been represented as ‘strategic advances’ to a Provo grassroots seemingly paralysed by a combination of loyalty and a fatalistic resignation to their inability to exercise any influence over the actions of their leaders. A checklist of the ‘achievements’ of this leadership would include:

  • An increasingly ineffective armed struggle, culminating in the ceasefire of what had been one of the world’s most effective guerrilla organisations
  • Two splits and the disillusionment of countless individual Republicans
  • The recognition of the legitimacy of British rule in Ireland through the GFA
  • The acceptance of the Unionist veto over constitutional change through the endorsement of the principle of ‘consent’ as per the GFA
  • The deletion of articles 2 & 3 of the Irish constitution
  • The transformation of opponents of British rule into administrators of British rule, from which they have now been ignominiously excluded
  • Being completely out-negotiated by the Unionists and the British and signing up to a GFA with laughably flimsy and trivial cross-border institutions considerably weaker than those established at Sunningdale
  • Decommissiong of IRA weaponry (“Never in a thousand years” “Line in the sand” blah blah)
  • Ongoing movement towards the inevitable disbandment of the IRA and SF taking their seats on the Policing Boards as soon as a suitable fig-leaf can be found to enable SF to claim they are participating in ‘transitional structures’ to a new police force

From the above list, which remains very much work in progress, it is clear that wherever Adams’ alleged genius lies, it certainly does not lie in advancing the cause of Irish Republicanism.

Adams’ main ‘achievement’ has been to convince a significant number of genuine Republicans to ‘trust the leadership’ and, ignoring the evidence in front of their eyes, to follow Adams on his journey away from Republicanism and to an accommodation with British rule. The strength of Moloney’s book lies in his identification of the consistent pattern of subterfuge and deception by which this leadership was able to say utterly contradictory things to their governmental negotiating partners and corporate backers on the one hand and to their own grassroots on the other. The two ‘truths’ being peddled were, of course, utterly irreconcilable, the only question was to whom were the lies being told.

It is quite clear from the evidence that the version of reality that prevailed was that which Adams told to the British and it was the Provo base (and, indeed, many in leadership positions) who were hoodwinked on the long journey to acceptance of the notion that “British rule is easily digestible, once you get the taste for it.”

Insofar as any strategic genius can be identified in Adams actions and “achievements”, it lies not in his strategically advancing Republicanism, whose cause he has irreparably damaged; rather it lies in his ability to manage a Republican base as they are led by the nose away from the principles for which they had both endured and inflicted so much.




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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

10 November 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


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


The Letters page has been updated.


7 November 2002


Our Community
Liam O Ruairc


Billy Mitchell


To The Beat of a Different Drum
Anthony McIntyre


Bring Back Stormont and Political Status

Brian Mór



Brian Mór


Pinnocchio Redux

Brian Mór




The Blanket




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The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
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