Implicit in Vincent Browne’s defence of Gerry Adams‘ handling of the IRA killing of prison warder, Brian Stack published in The Irish Times today, is an assumption that Adams a) genuinely cares about victims and their families, and b) genuinely wishes to get to the bottom of the circumstances of their deaths.
He does this by comparing Adams’ dealings with victims’ relatives to a couple of official bodies, established during the peace process, which are statutorily obliged to be solicitous truth-seekers in these matters. One is the Commission to Locate Victims Remains (the Disappeared), the other is the so-called Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR).
But what can we learn about Gerry Adams’ actual behavior in such matters from past, similar incidents? The death of Patrick (Paddy Joe) Crawford in an IRA compound in Long Kesh in the summer of 1973, officially judged to have been a suicide but now widely believed to have been an IRA ‘execution’, is perhaps a useful place to start.
I wrote about the death of Paddy Joe Crawford in my book Voices From The Grave because in his interviews with Boston College, the late Brendan Hughes had claimed that Crawford had not committed suicide but had been hanged by fellow inmates on IRA orders from outside.
Hughes’ interviews were supplemented by further research carried out by Boston College researcher, Anthony McIntyre and the result provides a valuable insight into the way the SF leader sometimes deals with truth-seekers.
This is what I wrote, based on Brendan Hughes’ interviews:
Hughes’s belief was that the order to kill Crawford had come into the jail from Gerry Adams, who was still Belfast Commander at the time. Hughes was not present, he admitted, at the Brigade staff meeting that discussed Crawford’s fate and at the time of the hanging he believed that Ivor Bell had sent in the order. But when he discussed the matter with Bell some years later Bell told him that it was Adams who had issued the order, not him. Boston College’s researcher, Anthony McIntyre, interviewed former IRA internees held in Long Kesh at this time in an effort to confirm Hughes’s account and they corroborate his claim that Crawford was hanged. But they say that Adams’s role in the affair was to refer Crawford’s case to GHQ in Dublin which then ordered his death. If true this would mean that, ultimately, permission for the killing was probably given by the then Chief of Staff, Seamus Twomey, the most senior figure on GHQ.
Boston College researcher, Anthony McIntyre dug deeper into the circumstances of Crawford’s death and this is what I wrote in VFTG:
The former IRA members interviewed by McIntyre, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added disconcerting detail to the story. The hanging was accompanied by a macabre ceremonial: a black cloth was draped over the improvised steps from which young Crawford was pitched into eternity and his wrists were taped behind his back. Afterwards the cloth, a vital piece of evidence, was removed. They also say that he went meekly to his death. Paddy Joe Crawford was a strong young man and could have fought his executioners – and by so doing could have created enough forensic evidence to cast doubt on the suicide theory – but for reasons still unfathomable, he chose not to resist. Four men helped to hang Crawford. One of them was Harry Burns, known as ‘Big Harry’ to his friends, a prominent Belfast IRA man who was related by marriage to Gerry Adams. During the hanging a group of internees inadvertently burst into the hut and saw everything. Afterwards the word spread among other inmates. ‘Prisoners were simply told he had taken his own life. But people knew, although they did not talk,’ one of the sources told McIntyre.
Crawford’s death was officially judged to be suicide but the evidence that he had been murdered, and chosen so as to send a message to other IRA internees about the dangers of ‘informing’, kept piling up. And so did the suspicion that Crawford had been singled out for death because he was an orphan and there would be no-one to ask awkward questions afterwards.
One person did, however, ask questions, although it was many years later before he plucked up the courage to ask them. Gerry McCann was a fellow inmate at the orphanages at Nazareth Lodge in Belfast, and Kircubbin in Co Down and a friend of Crawford and had long wondered about his death.
Crawford was killed in June 1973 at a time when it was becoming clearer that the IRA’s Belfast Brigade had a serious informer problem. Not long after his death, Gerry Adams, Brendan Hughes and other senior Belfast activists were arrested and interned.
Gerry McCann made contact with Gerry Adams and started to ask questions about Paddy Joe Crawford. This is what I wrote in VFTG about McCann’s experience with the SF leader:
In January 2008, Gerry McCann contacted Gerry Adams via the Sinn Fein website to ask for a meeting and, on 7 March, he and the Sinn Fein President got together at the party’s offices on the Falls Road to discuss Paddy Joe Crawford’s untimely death. While Adams’s role in ordering Crawford’s killing is open to question, there seems little doubt that the Belfast Brigade staff, of which Adams was the leading member, did play a central part in the events. But like Jean McConville’s family before him, Gerry McCann met a wall of denial from Gerry Adams. ‘The meeting was very cordial,’ recalled Gerry McCann. ‘I gave him a working document with questions. Was Paddy Joe an IRA Volunteer, which I knew he was, and Adams said he wasn’t. I didn’t believe he took his own life at the time and I still believe that he didn’t take his own life and I told Gerry that. His reply was that under no circumstances was he killed by his own people.’ Adams told McCann that he wasn’t in Long Kesh at that time and had no personal experience of the event but he would try to contact people who were and they might be able to tell him more.
The matter rested there but nothing happened for five months until McCann contacted Sinn Fein to ask when Adams would deliver on his promise. After that he got his second meeting, not with Gerry Adams but with Bobby Storey, who was a seventeen- year-old internee in Cage 6, next door to Paddy Joe Crawford’s cage in June 1973. Bobby Storey is, as Gerry McCann put it, ‘Gerry Adams’s right-hand man’, named in the House of Commons by the former Unionist MP David Burnside as the then Director of IRA Intelligence and the alleged moving force behind some of the IRA’s more spectacular operations in the last years of the peace process. Among the many tasks Storey has undertaken for the Sinn Fein leadership was handling the delicate issue of the disappeared, in particular the potentially explosive case of Jean McConville.
As Adams had done, Bobby Storey denied any IRA hand in Crawford’s death: ‘I asked him’, recalled McCann, ‘was Paddy Joe taken out by his own people and Bobby’s response was decisive and direct: “Under no circumstances could this tragedy be attached to the movement or any inmates.”’ Gerry Adams had told Gerry McCann that Paddy Joe Crawford wasn’t an IRA Volunteer but the Sinn Fein President’s right-hand man had a different answer: ‘Storey said he was,’ Gerry McCann recalled, ‘which raises the question why there were no Republican trappings at his funeral if he had committed suicide. It beggars belief.’