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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Take It With A Pinch Of Salt

Tom Luby 18.12.02

BELFAST - Only the most naive or bovine among the Republican grassroots could have seriously believed that when this week Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness met members of the Stevens team investigating allegations of collusion in the 1988 UDA killing of Belfast lawyer, Pat Finucane, they did so in order to say whether or not the security authorities had ever negelected to tell them when they had been similarly targetted, as the two men claimed afterwards.

The truth is that a simple phone call or even an inquiry via a Sinn Fein aide could have given the Scotland Yard team the information they wanted, quicker, with much less fuss and probably more efficiently. For that reason, it was difficult watching the two Sinn Fein leaders travelling to talk to the police team and not conclude that, once again in this never-ending mirage called the peace process, what was being played out in front of our eyes was not what was really happening.

The two men’s expedition makes much greater sense when seen as another stage in the inevitable journey towards Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA signing up to acceptance of, support for and membership of the North’s new police body, the PSNI. And like other concessions made, or u-turns executed by the Sinn Fein leadership over the past years, Adams made his move in crab-like style, edging sideways towards his destination, almost unnoticed by his supporters, and eschewing the honest, straightforward approach.

The thinking behind the move is clear. It is not yet quite time to make the great symbolic gesture of recognition of the PSNI by meeting, shaking hands with and supping tea and biscuits with its chief, Hugh Orde. It is too early for that, but, with important negotiations under way, perhaps the right time to signal to the British and Irish governments - not to mention the US State Department - that that day will also dawn and before too long. And what better way to send the message than by meeting the team once headed by Orde? Shaking hands with Orde’s successor was the next best thing to shaking the hand of the man himself.

Adams and the ever faithful McGuinness, approached their goal sideways, for sure, but they also came covered in camouflage, in this case wearing the garments of victims of loyalist- British security force collusion, the sort of co-operation which cost Pat Finucane his life and which might very well have cost them their lives.

As he emerged from the meeting, Adams made great play of the fact that although he and McGuinness were once targetted by loyalist agents controlled by the RUC and British military intelligence, not once were either men warned that their lives were in danger. "I have to say to the best of our recollection, categorically, we were never informed except through the broad media", he claimed.

And he went on: "This is the first time in my recollection we have received a specific request to meet. It follows requests by them to meet us individually because we were among a number of people who were being targeted for killing by loyalists working and being handled by elements of British military intelligence and the RUC Special Branch. They basically wanted to ascertain from us during defined periods were we informed by the RUC we were being targeted, and whether we were given advice, help or assistance to take precautions."

Adams is either being somewhat economical with the truth here or his recollections are indeed not the best, for disclosures at a celebrated trial in Belfast some ten years or so ago showed that while he may not have been warned by the authorities that loyalists were conspiring to kill him, it would be entirely wrong to say that they stood idly by and did nothing.

The trial was of Brian Nelson, the UDA’s intelligence chief, who stood accused of helping to murder a number of Catholics in Belfast - Pat Finucane being the best known - some of them with minor IRA or INLA associations. Nelson’s defence was that all the while he was working as the UDA intelligence supremo, he was secretly doubling as an agent for a highly covert unit of British military intelligence called the Force Research Unit (FRU), which gave him sanction for his actions.

The head of FRU, known in court only as ‘Colonel J’, gave evidence in Nelson’s defence, principally that thanks to Nelson and the intelligence he had provided, the FRU had been able to save scores of lives. Under cross-examination, ‘Colonel J’ was able to produce only one name of a saved life, and that was the Sinn Fein president and then West Belfast MP, Gerry Adams.

The details came spilling out a few days later. In 1988, the same year in which Finucane was gunned down by Nelson’s associates, the UDA planned to kill Adams as he left a meeting in Belfast city centre with an official of the Housing Executive. The UDA had done intelligence on Adams’s armoured car and discovered it had one weak spot. The roof had no protection. The UDA produced a limpet mine with a magnetic clamp, planned to set its fuse at a few seconds and intended to use a bomber on a motorbike to set it on the roof of the car as Adams’s vehicle waited to move into the traffic flow. If all went well, the bomb would explode almost instantly and Adams would be dead.

The UDA’s plan was never executed. Nelson told his FRU handlers all about it and a few days before Adams was supposed to meet his maker, a joint RUC-British Army raid netted the UDA’s limpet mine and the plan was abandoned. Adams had not been warned of all this, for sure, but his life had nonetheless been saved by the British authorities.

The incident is interesting for two reasons. Four years earlier, the UDA did manage to carry out an attempt on Adams’s life and as Mark Urban’s excellent account in ‘Big Boys’ Rules’ explains, the British also knew about it ahead of time but allowed it to go ahead. Adams was lucky. His car was ambushed in the city centre and riddled with bullets. Adams was hit but survived.

Four years later, the British took no chances and moved quickly and decisively to save Adams’s life when they learned the UDA planned once again to kill him. Something had changed inbetween and a clue as to what that something was, is contained in Ed Moloney’s account of the genesis of the peace process, ‘A Secret History of the IRA’.

According to Moloney’s account, by the time the UDA hatched its limpet mine plot in 1988, Adams had been in lengthy conversations, via the Redemptorist priest, Fr. Alex Reid, with the British government about getting Sinn Fein into political talks in return for an IRA ceasefire and Republican acceptance of the consent principle. A document had even been supplied to Adams by the British outlining what became the peace process and they then had every reason to seek to preserve Adams’s life. Is this why, the FRU and their operational allies in MI5 acted with such alacrity when they heard about the UDA’s limpet mine?

Pat Finucane enjoyed no such consideration. All the evidence in his death suggests that at the very least the RUC and FRU/MI5 knew about the UDA’s plan to kill him and did nothing to stop it or, at the worst, that they encouraged the UDA to target the lawyer.

That highlights the second interesting feature of the FRU’s behaviour towards Gerry Adams and it is best expressed in the form of a question, albeit one that may never be asked at an official tribunal of inquiry. The question is this: Why did the FRU allow Pat Finucane to die, but not Gerry Adams?



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
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Index: Current Articles

19 December 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Take It With A Pinch Of Salt
Tom Luby


Victory 2016 plus 40 - Remember to Read the Small Print

Anthony McIntyre


The Men of No Property
Liam O Ruairc


Relatives of Republican Prisoners
Orlaith Dillion


Dirty Politics
Carrie Twomey


Henry McDonald, “Irish Anti-Semitism” and the Zionist Roadshow
Brian Kelly


Arrests in London of Turkish Hunger Strike supporters


15 December 2002


Arrests in London of Turkish Hunger Strike supporters


The Beast is Back
Henry McDonald


Christmas in the "Holy Land"
Margaret Quinn


The Theocractic Threat to Secular Freedom

Anthony McIntyre




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