I see The Irish Times has today devoted what must be the equivalent of a whole page (in the days when people read paper newspapers) to an encomium to Bobby Storey, the fixer to Gerry Adams who was buried in Milltown cemetery in West Belfast yesterday after succumbing during an unsuccessful attempt to transplant one or both of his lungs at a hospital in, all of places, England.
In a more objective and considered time, in studies of this period and of the Provisional IRA’s journey to the Good Friday Agreement, Storey would merit a few paragraphs and several footnotes. But a whole page or thereabouts in Ireland’s paper of record? I think not. But such is the journalism of the peace process.
Storey was a character whose pre-Good Friday Agreement IRA career was marked notably by failure. He was arrested during a compromised effort to spring Brian Keenan from Brixton jail and then when he beat that rap, was arrested after an almost suicidal attempt to shoot British soldiers, and spent much of next two decades in the Maze prison.
Big Bobby’s moment came when he was released from the Maze at a point which coincided with the beginnings of the IRA’s final lap to the 1994 and 1997 ceasefires and it was his job to make sure that his boss, Gerry Adams both survived the experience and emerged triumphant.
A big, burly character with a menacing manner, as Malachy O’ Doherty can bear witness, he was largely successful in that task. But he was mostly a Belfast phenomenon, where he was most effective, and he was never, at least at a time when it really mattered to journalists and British spies trying to get a fix on such things, on the Army Council.
It was his principal job to intimidate and terrify Republicans in Belfast who had some interesting and awkward questions to ask about how happily the Adams’ ceasefire strategy sat with the Provos’ founding raison d’etre.
Bobby Storey’s real job was to ensure such people knew they were being watched so that Gerry could rest more easily in his bed. In that sense he was really Adams’ Luka Brasi, albeit with more brains, which would not be difficult (as the clip below demonstrates).
Far be it for me to try to guess who the Provo sources for The Irish Times piece were, but there is an interesting clue in this sentence: “Storey and North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly were two of the masterminds in what was the biggest jailbreak in UK prison history, dubbed by republicans, The Great Escape, after the film.”
Actually no. Larry Marley was the brains behind the great escape and everyone knows that. One book has been written and a very good movie made, showing how it was the Ardoyne IRA man who conceived the plan for what became, with the escape of 38 IRA inmates, nineteen of who made a getaway, the largest escape in British penal history.
But it seems someone is intent on writing Larry Marley out of this spectacular episode And this piece is not the first time this has happened since Storey’s death. Who could be doing that, and why?
Well, here’s a possible clue.
Larry Marley, who did not take part in the escape because he was due to be released not long afterwards, was shot dead by the UVF at his home in Ardoyne in 1987 and this April one of his sons wrote that he had information that three IRA informers set up his father for assassination, presumably with the co-operation of British spooks who handled them.
One of those alleged informers, who also has a ranking position in Sinn Fein, has been outed very publicly a number of times before Marley’s son went public, but the Provo leadership has refused consistently to either take the allegation seriously or do anything about it.
That in turn has fueled suspicions that someone in the Provo hierarchy approves of this man’s double life and maybe gains an advantage from it – such as removing obstacles to, or/and opponents of the official strategy which Bobby Storey did so much to protect.
Writing Larry Marley out of the Maze prison escape by elevating Storey (and Gerry Kelly) as the real brains behind the plan, as seems to have happened in The Irish Times’ piece on Storey, can mean that in the background, at a level few journalists penetrate, Larry Marley is being badmouthed so that these sort of allegations appear more credible. Believe me this is an old Provo trick.
Big Bobby would have been very familiar with this sort of strategem. So Luca Brasi with brains might indeed be the best way to describe Gerry Adams’ late protector.