Readers of this blog will, I hope, forgive me if I repeat a story I first made public in the introduction to Bob White’s biography of the late IRA leader Ruairi O Bradaigh.
It was the publicity surrounding Peter Taylor’s recent documentary on the IRA, and his admission that he would have enlisted in the Provos’ ranks in the wake of Bloody Sunday had he been a Bogsider, that has prompted me to recall the story.
And that was because what happened to me in my dealings with the Provos also happened to him, though I doubt he ever knew it. If he had known I wonder whether he would have been as quick to admit his post Bloody Sunday sympathies.
One of my first assignments as a wet behind the ears reporter for Magill magazine back in 1980 was a lengthy piece on the takeover of the IRA by Gerry Adams and his friends and the threat this posed to the leadership of Sinn Fein, then still in the hands of Ruairi O Bradaigh.
It was, needless to say, a controversial piece because it rehearsed the bitter struggle between the two camps and the role played in it by the 1975 IRA ceasefire crafted by the then leadership, symbolised by O Bradaigh and Daithi O Conaill.
The accusation leveled by the Adams camp was that the O Bradaigh/O Conaill camp had been hoodwinked by the British who had used the ceasefire, not to prepare the way for withdrawal, but to build a brand new prison which would house the victims of a tough new criminalisation policy aimed at extirpating the IRA.
Many years later O Bradaigh told me that the appearance of that edition of Magill was the cause of a particularly rowdy meeting of the Sinn Fein ard-comhairle at which the Adams camp was accused by the O Bradaigh camp of inspiring the Magill article and being its principal source.
The outcome of that meeting, he told me, was an agreement by the Adams’ camp never to speak to me again and, in conjunction with everyone else in Sinn Fein, to shun me and my journalistic endeavours.
I cannot say that I noticed any difference at all in my dealings afterwards with the Provos. That was because I was based in Belfast and the Northern Provos with whom I met carried on as before, as if the ard comhairle edict had never been issued.
It was only when I attended SF events in Dublin, such as the ard-fheis, that I noticed the change. Whenever I made an attempt to speak to O Bradaigh or O Conaill they would turn on their heels and speed away.
Many years later I told this story to a member of the IRA Army Council and he responded with the following. But first a bit of background. The Army Council then was divided into two types. Those who held dual membership of Sinn Fein and those who did not. The latter had next to no time for political activity; they were soldiers first and last.
Anyway at a particular Army Council meeting the subject of Peter Tayor came up raised by, shall we say, elements sympathetic to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, people who held dual membership of both the political and military wings.
The Council’s politicians had a warning to give their soldier colleagues. Peter Taylor’s job at the BBC was just a cover for his real role, which was as a spy for MI5, the British intelligence agency, they announced. No-one should have any dealings with him.
I cannot say with certainty how the Council’s politicians responded but I’d bet the mortgage they behaved exactly like their counterparts on the ard-comhairle had behaved towards me, i.e. they completely ignored the warning and continued to deal with the BBC man, while the soldiers rigorously obeyed the warning and shunned him religiously.
Nor can I say whether Peter Taylor ever learned of this episode or whether he continued to try to speak to the Army Council’s soldiers. I know that in my case normal relations with the other wing of Sinn Fein were eventually restored and I’d like to think that was because my journalism was seen to be even-handed.
But the two episodes do give a revealing insight into the devious ways of that section of the Sinn Fein and IRA leadership which eventually steered both organisations into the peace process.