Amid all the brouhaha about Gerry Adams’ illegal internment in 1973 and a British court’s recent ruling that his imprisonment for two attempted prison escapes was ultra vires, a key biographical fact has been overlooked.
Gerry Adams was interned twice, and as far as I can ascertain from the media reports of last week’s court case, his challenge to internment concerned only one incident, the second time he was put away, tried to escape twice and was then tried, found guilty and imprisoned for the offences.
What was not mentioned – and I stand ready to be corrected here – was the first time he was interned, which was in March 1972. It wasn’t a lengthy period in Long Kesh because the IRA ceasefire followed some three or so months later, in July and, apparently at the insistence of his then Belfast Brigade comrade, Ivor Bell, Adams was released to join the IRA negotiating team.
After that he was on the run for the best part of a year until he was re-arrested, along with other members of the Belfast Brigade, at a house in the mid-Falls area in July 1973. During the next year or so he twice attempted to escape, was caught and then was tried in 1975 and sentenced to four and a half years jail time.
As far as I can ascertain from press reports such as this one, this was the only period of Adams’ internment experience considered by the UK’s Supreme Court, which found that the 1973 British documents had been illegally processed and that therefore Adams was incorrectly interned and wrongly prosecuted for attempting to escape from jail.
Not so, it seems, his earlier experience about which there seems to have been no legal controversy at all. Like other IRA activists, Adams was on the run after internment was introduced in August 1971 and sleeping in different billets each night. But he had got married during this time, to Colette McArdle and she had become pregnant.
Adams arranged for her to live in a house in Harrogate Street, near the Beechmount area of the Falls Road. He would visit her from time to time and even stay overnight and it was during one of these trysts that the house was raided by British soldiers and Adams was arrested and then interned.
At the risk of repeating myself I can find no mention of this earlier internment in the UK Supreme Court’s deliberations, which means that it was in all probability perfectly legal.
So for all those, especially Unionist commentators, who have been wailing about the Supreme Court’s verdict clearing Adams of the last vestige of a connection to the IRA, I am sorry to disappoint you. Adams was interned perfectly legally in 1972 which means that the British government’s then belief in his IRA membership was legally sound.