Sands Family Claim Gerry Adams Wanted To Be A Financial Beneficiary Of Bobby Sands Writings
It has been difficult, to say the least, to excavate the truth about an allegation made by the Sands’ family this week about the role of the Bobby Sands Trust in the preparation and publication of the controversial graphic novel ‘Bobby Sands – Freedom Fighter’.
While Unionists have vented their spleen at the sympathetic light in which the late IRA hunger striker is portrayed, the Sands family have complained that the Sinn Fein-controlled Bobby Sands Trust played a central role in creating the book, did so without the family’s assent and in the process hijacked their history.
They have demanded that the Trust disband and stop using Bobby Sands’ writing for commercial gain.
Superficial evidence points to some involvement by the Trust, or some of its board, not least media appearances this week praising the book by Danny Morrison, at one time the Trust’s secretary, as well as reports that Gerry Adams was approached for help by the author or his publisher. Sands family sources also say some details about Bobby Sands’ life could only have come from Trust members.
In an effort to shed light on the matter, I emailed Michael O’Brien, Publisher of O’Brien Press, who must be reveling in all the publicity, to ask him what dealings or financial relationship his firm had with the Trust. His reply dealt with one of those questions – “I confirm that no fee was paid to the Bobby Sands trust” – but not the other.
Gerry Adams, in Long Kesh (seated far right) with Brendan Hughes to his right and Bobby Sands to his left (both standing)
So today (Friday) I phoned The O’Brien Press to ask what dealings the company had had, if any, with the Trust and a supplementary to O’Brien’s emailed answer to me: ‘Okay, O’Brien Press hasn’t paid any fees to the Trust as of now but would the company pay any share of the royalties to the Trust in the future?’
The PR person could not come to the phone when I rang but I was assured she would get back to me. I am still waiting.
The Bobby Sands Trust, which has a website here, is a highly secretive and controversial body which has ownership of all of Bobby Sands writings and memorabilia, and therefore is the beneficiary of royalties and other income from his work. Since his writings have been on sale since 1981 that must amount to a tidy sum.
How much has been earned and where the money goes remain mysteries however since the Bobby Sands Trust has never once published a report of its activities or any financial accounts.
Nor does the Trust explain what its purpose in life is, i.e. why it exists. All that it says in that regard is this: “The Trust holds the copyright on all Bobby’s poetry and prose and was established to publish, promote and keep in print the extraordinary writings of this young Irish man, who from prison isolation became an international figure in 1981, and who to this day continues to inspire Irish republicans in their pursuit of freedom from British rule.”
A cynic might look at the Trust’s members and conclude that only confirmed Adamsistas qualify: Current members are Gerry Adams TD, Danny Morrison, Tom Hartley, Jim Gibney, Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane, Sile Darragh and Caral Ni Chuilin MLA. All are close colleagues or confidantes of the Sinn Fein president.
The original Trust had two of Bobby Sands’ sisters on the board, Marcella and Bernadette but they left in disputed circumstances. Adams’ loyalists claim the falling out was connected to the split in the Provos in 1997 which led to Michael McKevitt, Bernadette Sands’ husband, forming the Real IRA, while Sands family members insist the bad feeling predated the split by some years and was caused by mounting concern over the Trust’s secrecy and lack of accountability and transparency.
Back in July 2000, I wrote the following article about the spat between the family and the Trust for The Sunday Tribune which included the spectacular claim from Sands family members that Gerry Adams had at one time attempted to insert a new clause in the Trust’s constitution making himself a financial beneficiary of Bobby Sands writings. As you can read I never did get a response to that allegation from the Trust.
You can read the full article here. Enjoy:
Sands’s family considering legal action against The Bobby Sands Trust
(by Ed Moloney, Sunday Tribune, July 2, 2000)
The family of the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands are considering legal action to force the winding up of a Sinn Féin dominated trust established in the dead hunger striker’s name and to get his many prison writings returned to the family after a row over an alleged breach in the terms of the trust.
A spokesperson for the Sands family said that all of the dead hunger striker’s family were united on the issue and would consider any avenue to wind up the trust. “We simply want his property returned and for (Sinn Féin) to cease using him as a commodity”, said the spokesperson. “I think it would be correct to say that we intend to pursue this matter and we have not excluded any avenue”.
The Bobby Sands Trust was set up after his death in 1981 with the aim of raising money for the dependants of IRA prisoners through the sale of books, photographs and memorabilia about the dead IRA protester. The Sands family is claiming that a recent decision by the Trust to make “republican writings” the main beneficiary instead was illegal and taken without their permission.
The dispute significantly widens a long standing breach between the Sands family and the leadership of the Provisionals over the heritage of Bobby Sands, the leader of the 1981 hunger strike protest and unquestionably the single most powerful symbol of the republican movement’s resistance campaign.
Membership of the trust include the SF president Gerry Adams and a number of his allies from Sinn Féin including the former SF publicity director, Danny Morrison and Belfast councillors Tom Hartley and Marie Moore. The Sands family are represented by two sisters of the dead hunger striker, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, a leader of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and Marcella Sands, whose name Bobby Sands used as a nom-de-plume for some of his prison writings.
Although the dispute has been characterised as an extension of the 1997 split within the Provisionals over the peace process its origins appear to go back many years to before the first IRA cease fire in 1994.
According to the Sands family version of events it was their unhappiness with the way Bobby Sands’ writings and poetry were being treated by some in the Sinn Féin leadership that led to a new Trust being set up in 1994.
“We came to look closer at the Trust and in turn were concerned at the lack of control or accountability”, said one family source. “There were no records of minutes etc. or proper accounts and it was debatable if they ever functioned as a Trust but rather as an extension of SF. It has been claimed that Marcella was a member of the Trust for instance yet she was never informed of meetings or for that matter who the other members were”.
There was also family concern over an alleged attempt by Sinn Féin to insert a clause in the new Trust which would have made Gerry Adams a financial beneficiary. “It came in the draft version of the new trust documents drawn up in 1994 though Adams said that it should read the president of Sinn Féin of the day. We didn’t agree to either”.
Asked about these allegations the secretary of the Bobby Sands Trust, Danny Morrison said he would refer the Sunday Tribune’s queries to the next meeting. “For your information, in the meantime, you have been badly misinformed on several counts”, he said.
For the record I never did hear back from Danny Morrison about all this, in particular the claim that Gerry Adams had tried to make himself a financial beneficiary, so I don’t know whether my queries were referred to the Trust or what their response was. I assume the silence meant that nothing happened.