Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Cold – Gerry Adams and the Boston College Subpoenas

Within the confines of its goals, Sinn Fein’s peace process strategy was both clever and effective. Boiled down to its essence it amounted to the party negotiating away the IRA’s war and associated political dogma in return for political and electoral gain and advantage for Sinn Fein.

The goal was not a united Ireland – that was never on the agenda – but the relaunch of Sinn Fein as a constitutional party of government in both parts of Ireland, firstly and most easily in the North and then, with initial hiccups but then with some help from the bankers, in the South.

The Provos had some valuable, even priceless chips to trade with the British in the peace process negotiations. These included the first and second ceasefires, the acceptance of the consent principle, the decommissioning of the IRA’s arsenals, agreement to become Ministers in the government of the state they were once pledged to destroy, deference to British economic and social policies, recognition of the PSNI and finally, formally ending the IRA’s war and the dismantling of its structures.

The Sinn Fein negotiating team were very adept at playing some of these chips. The decommissioning chip in particular was deployed in such a way that it helped destroy both the SDLP (an intended goal which gave SF the leadership of Northern Nationalism) and David Trimble and his Official Unionists (perhaps unintended but ultimately advantageous to the party).

But Sinn Fein could not have strung out the decommissioning process for so many years (seven of them to be exact) without the approval and assent of the British authorities. To the intense frustration and anger of Trimble’s allies, Blair’s government refused time and again to apply pressure or threaten sanctions against Sinn Fein unless the IRA made good on the pledge to disarm. Even when the IRA robbed the Northern Bank and its members knifed Robert McCartney to death, Blair’s government, along with the Bertie Ahern administration in Dublin, sought refuge in denial, so strong was the impulse to coddle the Shinners.

The reason why the Blair government behaved like this was the same reason that key parts of the security establishment, namely MI5 and the RUC Special Branch, went out of their way in those days to help those in the Provos who favoured the peace process and to hinder those who were opposed. (I remember, as an example, one senior Special Branch man telling me how, on the eve of IRA Conventions, his men would issue orders for the arrest of troublemaking delegates so they wouldn’t be there to cause Adams and his allies any difficulties).

After all the prize was unimaginably alluring and something that even in their wildest dreams security chiefs could never have believed possible: the war being ended by Provisional IRA fiat, its leaders delivering its members and guns into a settlement that was less than that available to the SDLP in 1974. It made obvious common sense that the security forces would do all they could to ensure this outcome and help those in the Provos who were leading the mission.

Perversely and for reasons all to do with convincing its supporters that the peace strategy was heading to a very different place, Sinn Fein leaders persisted in claiming that the security establishment was actually fighting tooth and nail to do the opposite, to obstruct its negotiations. So was born the securocrat myth, the idea that legions of MI5 and RUC Special Branchmen were working day and night to hinder Sinn Fein’s clever plan to achieve Irish unity.

It was of course nonsense – but only at the time. The key point is that that was then and this is now. The IRA has given up most of its weapons (the non-defensive ones, that is), the IRA itself has formally ended its war with Britain and its structure & units have mostly been dismantled. Defanged and disarmed the IRA now presents no threat to the British and accordingly the need to indulge and accommodate the Provos and their leaders has diminished.

It is not difficult to imagine how much it must have stuck in the craw of MI5 and the RUC Special Branch to lend a hand to Gerry Adams during the days of the peace process. He was, after all, the effective leader of an organisation that had killed the Queen’s cousin, nearly obliterated Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet, had bombed the City of London to smithereens and generally made their lives miserable and complicated for over three decades. The temptation to hang him out to dry must have been immense but given that their real interests lay in the opposite direction, they resisted it. But that need has gone.

This then is the weakness of the Provos’ peace strategy. As long as they had chips to play in negotiations and as long as the IRA was a threat then it behoved the British to lend Adams and his colleagues a hand; the strategy was a strong and powerful one for these circumstances. But once the deal was done what reason was there for the British to continue cosseting the Sinn Fein leadership, especially since the various dissident groups have turned out to be every bit as inefficient, divided, riddled with agents and incapable of presenting a threat as it was predicted they would be?

It is in such circumstances that the thoughts of some in the security establishment may turn to revenge against people like Adams, to extract payback for Mountbatten, Warrenpoint, Brighton and so on. Especially so at a time when his party is on the verge of significant electoral and political success in the South. If that project could be undermined or damaged, then so much the better.

That’s where the subpoenas served against Boston College, seeking Dolours Price’s interviews as well as any that mention the disappearance and death of Jean McConville, enter the story. From what is known publicly about that killing, from Brendan Hughes’ published interviews and especially Dolours Price’s tape-recorded interview with Allison Morris in the Irish News/Sunday Life in February 2010 – which was ultimately responsible for the move against Boston College – any criminal investigation of the McConville death is bound to end at Gerry Adams’ door, one way or another.

As the saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold.

15 responses to “Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Cold – Gerry Adams and the Boston College Subpoenas

  1. i don’t see where the concern is, aren’t we both on the same page?

  2. It is interesting to note that people accept Brendan’s assertion that Adams was in the IRA but not his assertion that McConville was an informer who reaped her own harvest.

    At this stage people in the south couldn’t care less, and most of the North couldn’t care either. Yes you have a few loons in the Labour party or Fine Gael and you have some more extreme elements in the DUP and TUV but most people don’t want to play the angry game any more. It is all too often played by people who never lost a loved one, never saw a corpse on the street, never heard a bomb, never wondered if the car pulling up outside your door at night was the UFF coming to kill you.

    That is a very interesting point about the Security forces getting revenge. I think that they would have done it before his election in Louth, even if they proved that he ordered the killing of McConville in black and white. I still believe that he would have been elected, just not on the 1st count and it would have cost SF 3 or 4 seats. It wouldn’t have been fatal.

    I think that they will be prevented because they know that if SF do not succeed by electoral politics that the other alternative is for young Republicans to re-engage with the military struggle. Most, not all, people in the British establishment want to see that avoided, as do most people in the Republican side as well.

  3. well, to begin with there is the world of difference between allegations being made by a dead republican comrade in a book, something that can be contented in all sorts of ways, and the same and more damaging material emerging as evidence in court. when something is said in court by a representative of the state, i.e. the bewigged prosecutor the onus falls on the accused to prove otherwise. when it appears in a book the onus instead is on the person making the allegation.
    don’t forget these subpoenas have been served in support of a criminal investigation which means that the cops are looking to charge dolours price (based on what appeared in the irish news/sunday life) with mcconville and those articles both said she said she got her orders from GA. at the minimum very damaging stuff, damaging to adams that is, would then be aired in court and you can be sure the world’s press will be there to hear and report it. the allegations will inevitably lead to demands that GA also be charged. you can already hear the jim allister wing of the DUP screaming for that to happen and strains and stresses appearing in the power-sharing executive as a result. at the very least he is going to be tainted in a much more definitive way with association with mcconville, in a way that is going to be much more difficult to deny and/or brush off. that is going to cause political and electoral problems for sinn fein in the south (the ammunition for fianna fail will be very potent) and so on and so on. those who brought these subpoenas across the atlantic to boston would have to have been living on a different planet for the last couple of decades not to be aware of these repercussions. their motives therefore deserve scrutiny. my post was designed to suggest the possibility of one obvious motive.

  4. so the leader of sinn fein is indicted, efforts are made to extradite him and martin mcguinness and co. carry on happily working the power sharing government with peter robinson, ignoring what the police force they nominally control are doing to the guy who put them where they are and while this is going on there is absolutely no reverberations for sinn fein south of the border. it is like saying that if david cameron was charged with embezzling a children’s charity or enda kenny with playing footsie in public toilets with strange men there would be no political consequences for them or the parties they lead! tell me, kateyo, which planet have you been living on? i ask so i can avoid it. the problem for you & tony is that you allow your politics to blind the realities staring you in the face.

  5. None of us knows how Sinn Fein will fare in the South over the next few years. They haven’t been very impressive thus far in the current Dail. Adams, in particular, seems out of his depth – or perhaps more like a fish out of water. Whereas Martin McGuinness has taken to practical politics as to the manor born (or like a duck to water), the Sinn Fein President looks to be bored and unable to get his mind round economic issues, which he can only address via easy, reach-me-down rhetoric. It could be that by the time of the next election the party will have begun to make a broader impact. But I doubt it. In the meantime, Adams still has to deal with that pesky IRA question. Will he ever feel able to admit that he was Belfast Commander of the Provisionals or must he accept that he is the Tony Blair of Republicanism, for whom the armed struggle was the equivalent of Labour’s Clause 4, to be done away with in the cause of modernism?

  6. The broken elbow. I disagree with your reply to Kateyo. I have never come across someone in Ireland who genuinely believes that Adams was not a senior IRA man, not one. It is old hat, and irrelevant at this stage, it might finish his career, if it was bad enough but I doubt if that would even happen. Besides, if SF collapses then where does the future lie, it lies with the dissidents. It can either be the politics of the ballot box or the politics of the Gun.

    Regarding SF in the 26, I think that they are in a great position to grow in the next 5 years. They should be looking at getting 30 seats in the next election. FF are down for the count, there local org’s are in tatters, irregardless of the nonsense you hear in some qtrs. They aren’t coming back, and I would say that in many areas that they will hardly exist at all come the locals. Especially Dublin. The United Left is many times more active than them at this stage ffs. SF are cash rich, all the elected reps salaries are paid in to the party and they receive the average industrial wage instead. Allowing a war chest per TD of nearly 80k, that is before standard allowances for TD’s etc to hire a worked and fund an office. FF are 2.5mn in debt and can’t even get people to do a church gate collection for them in their strongest areas. T

  7. actually only two of you and neither has addressed my substantive arguments, relying instead on what i call a blinkered view which amounts to: adams sold out, brits must love him, therefore why would they act against him, fianna fail are a bunch of plonkers. simplistic and lacking in a deeper understanding of how politics works and completely ignoring a central question: how the PSNI can bring a criminal case and insulate adams from any of the fallout?

  8. a waste of time making these comments – your opening sentence is just gobbledygook, in line with the rest of your thinking – nor have you bothered to do any research on the extent and scope of the subpoeanas – go do some reading & homework in future, that’s my advice – this exchange is now closed.

  9. You’re very cross today.

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