Why Provo Lies About The Past Are So Dumb!

I have never been able to figure out the reasoning behind Gerry Adams’ and Martin McGuinness’ insistence on lying about their past lives as IRA members and even less so now as it becomes clear that it was McGuinness’ insistence on doing so that led directly to Sinn Fein’s less than stellar performance in the Irish presidential election.

Whatever the rationale there can be no doubt now that for both men, and their party, the decision has been at best, stupid and self-defeating and at worst, a disaster.

First, take a look at McGuinness’ showing in the presidential election. This was billed as the election that could push Sinn Fein through the credibility barrier in the South and place the party on the cusp of government. The plan was simple: underline Fianna Fail’s fall last February with a result that said Southern politics have utterly and irretrievably changed; Fianna Fail is a relic of a dead past and Sinn Fein is the new, coming electoral force.

But it didn’t quite work out that way. McGuinness’ 13.7 per cent of the first preference vote was better than SF’s general election tally of nine months ago for sure, but as one shrewd analysis pointed out, that was not comparing like with like. The real and adjusted rise in SF’s vote was around two-and-a-half points, well short of the vote-doubling that the party’s managers had hoped for.

Not only that but Fianna Fail did what no-one expected and put on a convincing impression of Lazarus. The FF result in the West Dublin by-election, the creditable performance of Sean Gallagher, the ersatz Fianna Failer – despite the late-breaking brown envelope scandal – and the fact that Sinn Fein was outpolled in all but one of the Border constituencies, its home ground, all spoke to dashed hopes that Martin McGuinness’ candidacy would bring an historic breakthrough.

There can be little doubt that McGuinness’ decision to stick by the lie he told the Saville Tribunal, that he had left the IRA “in the early part of the 1970’s” – later finessed to 1974 since he was in jail on IRA offences until then – was his undoing.

No-one could quite believe the story that he walked out on the IRA all those years ago yet still carried enough clout to persuade his former comrades to end their war, become ministers in a British administration and destroy all their guns. Imagine the scene: the Army Council is in session when there’s a knock on the door. It opens to reveal the Chuckle-like grin of Martin McGuinness. “Hi guys!”, he says nervously. “You might not remember me but I used to be one of youse a while back. Those were some days, I can tell you! Listen I have a couple of ideas I’d like to run past you. Got a minute?”

It was never going to work and it didn’t. McGuinness was chosen to carry SF’s banner because he was the Provos’ Mr Nice Guy, the Chuckle twin who had tamed the raging bull, Ian Paisley and made friends with that sinister-looking Peter Robinson, a hero of the peace process who was so much more fun to be with than grouchy old Gerry.

Martin was probably expecting a gentle stroll in the general direction of Phoenix Park with much agreeable talk of how well he had performed in the Northern government and how pleased he was to have helped end the war. But instead his campaign was dogged by questions about his credibility and all because of the IRA lie. For sure there was an element in the Southern media predisposed against him – call them West Brits if you wish – but the lie about leaving the IRA in 1974 was a sheer gift to his enemies. Other, more neutral elements in both the media and electorate could hardly be blamed if they joined the sceptics. It was an election after all and elections are supposed to be about the candidates’ honesty and integrity.

Remember also that Martin McGuinness was the candidate and not Gerry Adams and why that was so. The Sinn Fein president and Louth TD has been lying longer and more profoundly about his IRA past than McGuinness, although to be fair the only reason why the Derry man is not denying any association at all with the IRA, as Gerry has been doing since at least 1982, is probably that pesky interview he had on the streets of Derry with the BBC’s Tom Mangold: “As the commander of the IRA Provisionals in Derry, can you tell us…..?”And so on, with nary a word of protest from the bold Martin!

Nonetheless look at the damage that lie has done to Gerry? It drove Brendan Hughes, his old buddy-in-arms, to complete distraction and, in my view, was the driving force behind Hughes’ decision to tell all to Boston College, detailing Adams’ part in leading the Belfast IRA and later the IRA nationally and not least the role Gerry played in the disappearance of Jean McConville, a revelation that has indelibly tainted the SF leader beyond repair.

The McConville connection may not be the only reason Gerry Adams didn’t stand for SF in this presidential election but it was one reason and it is why once-fondly held hopes that he might end his days sleeping in the presidential bedroom have been dashed forever.

But for the lie that wouldn’t have happened and but for his own version of it, Martin McGuinness might still be regarded as the Provo leader who still had a vestige of rectitude. Instead, McGuinness will forever be linked to Frank Hegarty, the Enniskillen bombing, the use of human bombs – and of course the outrageous fib about leaving the IRA in 1974.

I don’t know why the two men embarked on their lies in the first place. I could never see any advantage to it and so many potential pitfalls it just didn’t make sense. The other thing is that it was unnecessary. Some reporters have taken the view that there was only two choices: lie about their IRA membership or admit it and risk a jail term. Not true. They could have done what a previous generation of Republicans did, men like Ruairi O Bradaigh and Daithi O Conail who would reply, when asked if they were in the IRA, “Mind your own business!”, or words to that effect.

Actually, it is not entirely true to say that I can’t think of a reason why they chose to lie because I can – although I don’t have smoking gun proof. Lying about his IRA links was sold internally at the time it started, during the campaign for the 1982 Assembly election, as something Adams had to do to frustrate a hostile media and it was okay because it was just a tactic, nothing more or less than that, just like car bombs or “up and unders” or personating in West Belfast or fixing the vote at the 1986 SF ard-fheis: these were things that had to be done to win the war.

And what that did was to make telling lies an excusable and acceptable tactic, a very handy device when the peace process began and it became necessary to sell one story to the British, Irish and American governments about the ultimate intentions of the Provo leadership and an entirely different version to their own grassroots.

But now the tactic has come back to bite those who devised it in the bum. I can’t say I have much sympathy for them.

10 responses to “Why Provo Lies About The Past Are So Dumb!

  1. Be careful on Fianna Fáil’s apparent resurrection “Fianna Fail did what no-one expected and put on a convincing impression of Lazarus. The FF result in the West Dublin by-election, the creditable performance of Sean Gallagher, the ersatz Fianna Failer – despite the late-breaking brown envelope scandal”.

    The FF Dublin West by-election result must be analysed in tandem with the dire Fine Gael result achiveved by a very weak candidate, Eithne Loftus.


    Typically in Irish by-elections the sitting TD wants a weak party candidate – such as the sitting Fine Gael TD, Government Minister Leo Varadkar, who was obliged to deny he had any role in the selection of a poor candidate –


    Loftus nearly halved the FG first preference vote, slashing the party’s share of the first preference vote from 27.19% to 14.74%, a fall of 12.45 per cent.


    The Fianna Fáil increase of 5.1%, and the 3.58% improvement won by its former coalition partner the Green Party was almost certainly a Loftus gift.

    Varadkar, who got this ticking-off from Harry McGee of the Irish Times, will be a much tougher opponent :

    “Eithne Loftus did not have the dynamism or hunger of her rivals and made little impact outside her own Castleknock area.

    She seemed the safest and least-threatening candidate to the party’s sitting TD Leo Varadkar. That should not have been the criterion for selection. Her 15 per cent return reflects badly on the party and on Varadkar.”

    Statewide, the key fact about Gallagher is that once he was exposed as a Fianna Fáil bagman by Martin McGuinness on the Frontline TV programme, his support collapsed straight across to Michael D Higgins of the Labour Party. This clearly indicates that the Fianna Fáil brand is still very toxic.

    An interesting question : why did Sinn Féin do this favour for Higgins?

    On the other side of the line the Labour Party’s Patrick Nulty lost a small amount of ground to Ruth Coppinger of the Socialist Party/ United Left Alliance – in that case the LP probably had to run a strong candidate who stood on the left of the party to fend off Coppinger. However there are now two Labour TD’s in Dublin West, and the longer-sitting tenant, Minister Joan Burton, might soon be wishing she had done “A Varadkar”.

    All constituencies will be redrawn before the next General Election and the number will be reduced from 166 to either 155 or 153 – a Boundary Commission Report will be published in the near future. Suggestions may then emerge that Burton and Nulty should no longer fight in the same constituency!

  2. Pingback: “…what that did was to make telling lies an excusable and acceptable tactic” « Slugger O'Toole

  3. Look at Gerry McGeough. If he admits it he could be put away. The Ruairi O’Bradaigh example doesn’t cut it because there’s no way he could say “mind your own business” whilst trying to run for presidency

    • so, let me get this right – he can’t say ‘mind your own business’ because he was running for president. why? because that was an evasion? so, instead he does what…..? lies that he left the IRA in 1974? and that’s better than refusing to answer? you also miss the point entirely. this policy of lying didn’t just start when mcguinness stood for the aras. it began years ago, in adams’ case in 1982. if he & others had adopted the evasive, plead the fifth stance way back then it would be much less of an issue now. not only that but i suspect people like brendan hughes would have much less upset and the big lad wouldn’t now be mired in jean mcconville stuff. your point about gerry mcgeough is also off base. mcgeough is opposed to the peace process strategy, the british therefore have a reason to prosecute him. they have no reason to put adams or mcguinness behind bars as it would be entirely self-defeating. nice try but you must do better.

  4. If he said “mind your own business” on say, primetime, he would be pressed further on it or called out on it for not answering.

    Sure he can and has been called out on claiming he left in 1974, such as when Vincent Browne got the books out. I suppose when he says his “i left in 1974” spiel, it at least offers people who are completely politically unaware, or people who want to support him, something to grasp to. Read the likes of the politics forum on boards.ie – these people actually exist.

    I know they have no reason to put Adams or McGuinness in bars now (and likely never will) but at the same time McGuinness probably doesn’t want that possibility hanging over him either.

    I’m not trying to suggest your hypothesis about lying to the grassroots is incorrect, I just think the potential of a conviction may also be a factor.

    • i did say “mind your own business” or words to that effect – it could be anthony mcintyre’s formula: “when there is a truth telling process in place which enables everyone, british, loyalist or republican, to speak freely and without fear of retribution, then we can all tell our stories”, or it could be simply “i’d love to talk openly but that’s just not possible and you know it” or a multitude of other versions all of which are varieties of “mind your own business”. anything but a lie. my point was that lying does two things: it irritates those on the receiving end and raises severe doubts about the honesty and integrity of the speaker; it also enrages those who were comrades. they feel betrayed and let down at being disowned. they are likely to seek revenge. both of these things have happened with adverse results for the two guys in the provos who do it, adams & mcguinness and for the organisation they lead. it might have been advantageous at some point in the peace process but now it is dragging them down. their problem now is that they are prisoners of their lies, they cannot now escape them even if they tried.
      and incidentally, i don’t think there is any chance of either of them ever being charged with anything, even if caught with a smoking gun in their hands. fear of legal consequences was not the reason for the lie in the first place because there were alternatives, some of which i have just described above.

  5. Fair enough I concede it did not occur to me they could put the “mind your own business” remark in the way you quoted AM outlining a thoroughly reasonable response above.

  6. Pingback: Elections Over – Fianna Fáil Still Toxic, A Government Starting to Slide « Tomás Ó Flatharta

  7. Now you’re motoring. I watched the “debates,” which were generally pretty dismal, and thought McGuinness came across as a pragmatic administrator far more than a green visionary. The irony is that he’s actually rather good at being deputy first minister in Stormont, where he seems genuinely to get along with Peter Robinson, who turns out, against all past evidence, not to be mad, but a safe pair of hands, and decent with it. In the northern context, nobody much minds that Martin’s a murderer. They know he’s lying about the whole Army Council thing, but they don’t care. It’s different in the South, where, as one of the women who asked him a question in the first debate made clear, they regard Belfast as a foreign capital of which they already know far too much.

  8. the last president was from belfast. the party that pushed that line, FG that belfast is foreign got about 6% half of what SF got, none of the other candidates when given the opportunity indorsed the sentiment. ‘we’ clearly don’t regard it as foreign. when given the opportunity peoples voting paterns can differ from sentiments expressed in editorials in independent newspapers.

    SF where in the top 3 in a two horse race. and it was a two horse race for the last 2 weeks. not bad not great for them. personally think there right not to open the books yet. first it was the word permenant then the guns now this. shinners getting it in the neck again. fair enough they put themselves in this situation but its all one sided. few months ago heard joe duffy tell one of the dublin monaghan families who where raising objections on his show before the english queen was over, ” that is was in the past and how did she know the brits where hiding anything”. when she tried to answer that she was shot down. but its not all in the past is it, the past can be brought on to the field when it suits them. if there going to be like that about the truth then why an expectation on the shinners.

    and on the dark. thousands of people went through the IRA. bar people who went to jail and even then who talks publicly about it. would have guessed there’d be rules about such a scenario.

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