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Bad News For The Big Lad But A Good Day For The BBC

Des Long’s decision to call out Gerry Adams for lying about his membership of the IRA and revealing that he was at one point not just a member of the Army Council but its Chairman, comes at a bad time for the retired SF leader, but is good news for the BBC and for one of the production team involved in the TV series marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the Troubles.

Early next year, Adams’ legal team, headed by feared litigator Paul Tweed, will launch a libel action in the Dublin courts against BBC’s Spotlight current affairs programme and reporter Jennifer O’Leary, over a claim that Adams’ was defamed during a programme examining the assassination of IRA activist turned RUC Special Branch spy, Denis Donaldson.

Adams’ long time personal lawyer, the late Paddy McGrory always advised Adams never to sue over claims involving his alleged membership of the IRA on the grounds that there was too much evidence to the contrary and on the record, not least publicly available British documents dealing with the 1972 IRA ceasefire.

Paddy’s fear was that Adams would, as the alleged injured party, have to give evidence from the witness stand, his denials of IRA membership wouldn’t stand scrutiny and he would be judged a liar about everything else by most juries.

Now that a senior, former comrade has blown the whistle on him, Gerry could do worse than recall his old advisor’s sagacity.

As worrying for Adams is the possibility that Des Long’s candor will encourage others to follow suit.

The IRA And Sinn Fein During The Troubles

An academic view of the Provisionals during the Troubles. The author studied the subject from Canada and clearly comes from the controversy-free, mainstream academic school of thought:

The IRA and Sinn Féin during the Troubles:
two faces of the same organization

Arthur Nogacz
University of British Columbia
Political Science Department
The second half of the 20th century has seen many facets of republicanism in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It started with armed activism, which reached its violence peak in 1969-72, and then the decline of this approach and a heightened importance of political means. At all times, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was at the center of the struggle.

On the political side was Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican Party. The IRA and Sinn Féin were founded at different times, and went through many formations, objectives and ideals before the 1950’s. Still, it was in the second half of the 1900’s that their differences diminished, and they became part of a unified nationalist front. From the early 50’s, the IRA and Sinn Féin, and later Provos and the new Sinn Féin, were under the same control, working as different branches of the same organization.
With the prominence of the IRA throughout the majority of the struggle, it is easy to assume that Sinn Féin was the secondary player in the relationship. Still, a shift of conscience and approach started in the second half of the 1970’s, and by the mid-1980’s Sinn Féin was a more reliable player than IRA itself, being an important political force in Northern Ireland politics. It gained power through the 80’s, which culminated into its acceptance into the peace process in the 1990’s. Sinn Féin reached its period of maximum influence until that point when it became a key player in the Belfast Agreement negotiations. It is safe to say that although the IRA and Sinn Féin saw their influence peak at different times, they were partners throughout the 30 years that led to the Good Friday Agreement, relying on each other as two branches of the Irish republican struggle.

The relationship before 1969

The Sinn Féin was founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith (Laffan, 3). It had a nationalist purpose, to insert the “moral authority of the Irish nation” into the country’s politics (Griffith, 161). Its nationalist appeal was nothing new, as the Parliamentary Party (previously known as Home Rule Party) was the main nationalist group in Irish politics at the time (Laffan, 5).

The party’s rise to prominence and first contact with political violence came with the 1916 Easter Rising (Laffan, 43), organized by the Irish Volunteers, the organization that later became the Irish Republican Army (Durney, 8). Many Sinn Féin members were involved, and because of that the rebellion was dubbed by some “The Sinn Féin Rising” (Feeney, 56). After the insurrection, the party acknowledged its Republican ideals, and started advocating for the establishment of the Irish Republic.
The Republican movement grew quicly in the following years, and the Assembly of Ireland (Dáil Éireann) was established in 1918 by Sinn Féin MPs who were elected but did not take their seats in the British Parliament. The Volunteers became of official army of the republic, under the new name of Irish Republican Army. The IRA fought in the War of Independence until the Irish Government negotiated the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The 1920’s saw internal splits in both Sinn Féin and IRA. The party did not support the treaty for it did not involve the whole of Ireland. Because of this, the pro-treaty side of the party split into the Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923 (Gallagher, 41). Sinn Féin members boycotted the Dáil, and did not take seats when elected. In 1926, the party leader Éamon de Valera led a group that was against the abstentionist policy, and created a new party, the Fianna Fáil. De Valera took most of Sinn Féin’s political influence with him (Coogan, 77-78), and over the next four decades, the biggest achievement Sinn Féin accomplished was to simply survive (Laffan 451).

The IRA also split after the war. The treaty was once more the issue at hand, and the anti-treaty side kept the name after the split in 1922. The next few decades were also mostly quiet for the IRA, until the second half of the 1950’s, which brought about many changes in the organization. One of these changes was the Border Campaign of 1956-62 (English, 73), which brought activity back to IRA. Another change was the increasing role of Marxism in the army. For a long time the IRA and to some extent Sinn Féin lacked a political theoretical base. In the early 1960’s a shift to the left was led by Roy Johnston, a member of both IRA and Sinn Féin. Johnston was the brain behind the National Liberation Strategy. This strategy called for catholic and protestant workers of Northern Ireland to fight under the same Republican banner, for a split within the workers’ ranks would only be good for capitalism. It also argued against the IRA to militarily defend one of the groups, which is one of the factors that would eventually lead to the 1969 split (Hanley and Millar).
In the mid-late 1950’s begins the connection between IRA and Sinn Féin that is studied by this essay. Although both organizations would suffer a split in 1969, the basis for the relationship started a decade earlier. It was in that period that the IRA decided to infiltrate and control Sinn Féin. This saw a growth of numbers in the party ranks, mostly by IRA members. The IRA gained control of the party by having Paddy McLogan, a long-time IRA commander, as the new leader of Sinn Féin (Laffan, 452). The party was a propaganda auxiliary of the IRA during the Border Campaign (Laffan, 452).

To say that 1969 was a major year for the Irish Nationalist struggle is an understatement. That was the year the Troubles started, with the Northern Ireland riots, and when the IRA split for the last time. Minor violence outbreaks were brewing earlier in the year. They were connected to the civil rights movement, which called for an end to the discrimination Catholics in Northern Ireland. In August, violence broke out throughout the country. The bigger riots were seen in Belfast, culminating in the death of 8 people, and the destruction of dozens of catholic families’ houses (Tonge, 39).

To this day the role of the IRA in the Riots is disputed. There seems to be an overall view that the IRA was poorly prepared to provide protection to the Catholic community and to republicans in general. Their supporters and part of their ranks blamed the IRA leadership for their unpreparedness (Report of Tribunal of Inquiry, no page), which eventually led to the split that took place in December of the same year.
The other factor that led to the split was abstentionism. Both IRA and Sinn Féin councils voted on the issue, but did not gain great majority (Laffan, 454). After that, the Provisional IRA stopped taking orders from Belfast. The same happened to Sinn Féin, which split between those who were to follow the official IRA, and those to follow the provisionals. After this point, the provisional Sinn Féin, which followed Provos, was a
completely different party. The only thing kept from the previous organization was its name (Laffan, 454).

Provos and the new Sinn Féin

The 1969 split generated two groups with different approaches. The Officials, also known as Red IRA, had their Leninist philosophy backed by heavy militarism. So much so that the excessive violence used by them between 1969 and 1972 put Sinn Féin’s political interests at risk (Patterson, 154). Provos had, at the time, a more lenient approach, which was not connected to communism. In 1972 the Officials saw much dissention within their membership, for big part did not want to keep the militarist streak going (Patterson, 158). It was at this point that Roy Johnston left the Red IRA for refusing to condone militarism, and joined the communist party. Soon the Officials would call for a ceasefire and stop its activities, at a time in which Provos was already the more supported organization, with the provisional Sinn Féin by its side.
The splits in 1969 and 1970 drew the PIRA and provisional Sinn Féin closer than ever before. They were both new organizations under a somewhat new leadership, but the IRA was clearly the leading figure at that point. The Provos council met before every Sinn Féin annual conference to direct future party activities (Laffen 456-6). The problem is that Sinn Féin was not very popular, and although nationalist talk did attract the Irish people, they were not ready to join the ranks and clearly support the cause (Bell, 49).

The 1970’s were the most violent period of the Troubles. After the Bloody Sunday incident of 1972, the Provisionals received a massive influx of new recruits. Because of that, Sinn Féin also saw a big growth in their ranks (Feeney 270-1). By 1973/4, Provos and the Provisional Sinn Féin were already regarded by the majority ofNorthern Irish people as the main body of the movement. To combat t hat, the opposing IRA and Sinn Féin made sure to be known as “the Officials”, but the strategy did not prove fruitful (Feeney, 252).

There was clearly much dissention among republicans in general over the means on how to lead the movement. Some believed violence was the only solution. Other saw that by 1972, after three years of intense conflict, nothing had really changed, and neither of the IRAs got their way. In this case, Sinn Féin was the connecting point for these people, as it gave them a political alternative to violence (Bell, 54).

By 1971, anti-imperialist talk was starting to take over the republican debate. Leaders of Provos and Sinn Féin were targeting Ireland as a whole, and supporting a unified country (Patterson, 155). Sinn Féin soon released its new policy, entitled Eire Nua, or New Ireland. Ó Brádaigh and Ó Conaill, the Dublin leadership of Sinn Féin, were the creators of the policy. It sought a federal all-Ireland republic (White). Although Eire Nua was proposed earlier in the decade, it still took a few years for it to gain the ideological and theoretical base needed to back it (Gallagher, 95).

The ceasefire of 1975 was the first time in which Sinn Féin had more exposition and a bigger role to play within the Republican struggle of the Troubles. The party gained significant importance in the community by setting up incident centers around Northern Ireland, so to communicate of any possible confrontation with the British officials (Taylor, 184). In addition to that, since the party was the organization that was currently representing the Republican struggle, the 1975 party’s Ard Fheis (high assembly), their annual conference, was used to call for a Republican policy which was actually IRA’s policy: British army should leave Northern Ireland, or the fighting would continue further (Feeney, 272). The ceasefire broke down in 1976 (Taylor, 156).

Although not officially, the leaderships of the IRA and Sinn Féin were at times in talks about a merger of the two organizations. In 1977, Seamus Towney, IRA’s chief of staff, was arrested in the possession of documents that detailed a possible merger and called for the party to come under the army at all levels by being radicalized and re-educated (Laffen 456-7). The merger ended up not occurring, but it opened ways for the start of the politicization of the struggle.

The late 1970’s were passing by, and the IRA was no closer to its objective of Irish unification. Republicans started to wonder whether bringing a stronger political facet to the organizations would not be beneficial. This process was accelerated with the 1981 hunger strikes (Laffen 457). The hunger strikes were at the end of five years-long protest against the British Government’s decision of abolishing the Special Category Status of political prisoners. This meant that paramilitary prisoners, mainly IRA activists, were to be treated as regular criminals rather than political ones (Malaugh, no page). During the strike, Bobby Sands, an imprisoned IRA member and hunger-striker was elected Member of Parliament. Sans ended up dying on strike, and for the first time, IRA was not connected only to murder, but also to martyrdom (Laffen 457). Over 100,000 people showed up to his funeral, in a matter of great national sympathy (English, 220). Sands’ seat was held, and the republicans gained two seats to the Dáil (Laffen, 457). From this moment on, republicans started to direct resources to electoral politics (O’Brien, 127), and contest all elections (Feeney 290).

The new strength of politics in the movement put the IRA and Sinn Féin on equal footing in the Republican struggle. A document released in the early 1980’s by the Sinn Féin Education Department states that “both the I.R.A. and Sinn Fein play different but convergent roles in the war of national liberation. The Irish Republican Army wages an armed campaign (…) (while) Sinn Féin maintains the propaganda war and is the public and political voice of the movement.” This translates the feelings of the leaders of both party and army after the success of the 1981 Hunger Strikes. The convergent importance of both military and political approaches was also famously mentioned by Danny Morrison, Sinn Féin’s publicity director, when he said the the 1981 Ard Fheis: “Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?”. This view became known as the Armalite and ballot box strategy, which shows the shift in activist republicanism from strictly military to equally political. 1983 saw the rise of Gerry Adams to the leadership of Sinn Féin, which started a period of growth in the importance given to electoral politics in the republican struggle and discussions over the abstentionist policy. Other than making gains in the Belfast City Council, Sinn Féin also elected Adams to Westminster with the party receiving over 100,000 votes (Murray and Tonge, 153). In that year’s Ard FheiI, the party voted positively on removing the ban on discussing abstentionism (Feeney 326). In 1985 a motion to end the policy failed, but in 1986, after the IRA had shown its support on lifting the ban, a new motion passed. This shows how important IRA’s input was to Sinn Féin.

The party was still careful on not generating a new split among its own ranks and IRA’s (Feeney, 331).

The late 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s were slow for the IRA. The peace process was talking over the national scene, and Sinn Féin’s new no-abstentionist policy was giving it more support around the country. In 1994 IRA called for a ceasefire, which was supposed to be held if Sinn Féin gained access to the peace negotiations (Tonge, 168). By this point, peace talks had fully taken over the lead from armed struggle, and Sinn Féin was trying to present itself as a regular party. Now that the party looked less like a front for the IRA, support in Northern Ireland doubled (Laffen, 460).

IRA’s ceasefire was called off in 1996 when the British Government did not allow Sinn Féin into the negotiations on the basis that the IRA had not yet surrendered its weapons. A quick wave of violence followed, with the Manchester and Dockland bombings. Soon Tony Blair’s Labour government allowed Sinn Féin into the negotiations on the sole basis of a ceasefire (Murray and Tonge, 193-4), which was called again in early 1997.

The Good Friday Agreement, which devolved partial governmental autonomy to Northern Ireland, was reached in April 1998. The ceasefire called by the IRA in 1997 still stands today, and Sinn Féin’s political influence grew enormously ever since. As of 2010, Sinn Féin is the second largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the second in Northern Ireland in number of seats in the British Parliament.

Conclusion

The thirty years of Troubles that culminated in the Belfast Agreement saw a very interesting partnership between the Provisional Irish Republican Army and Sinn Féin. The partnership started before 1969-70, with the organizations’ predecessors, but became clear and ideologically proximate after the splits. Although Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin’s leader, claims that the connection between the two organizations was very small, and that he was never part of the Army, history tells a different story.
This remarkable relationship provided two fronts for the Irish Republican Struggle. In one hand the armed front, and on the other the political. These two separate but convergent fronts played different roles at different times in the Troubles. In the first 15 years the IRA was the leading organization, backed by many with its armed approach to republicanism. The latter 15 years saw a shift in the power structure, led mostly by the lack of advances made by the IRA. This shift saw the political side taking over the relationship, increasing its support base, and ending in the peace talks.

This paper traced the timeline of the evolution of the partnership between the IRA and Sinn Féin. The proximity between the two allows for the argument that instead of being two separate organizations, they were simply part of a two-tiered approach to Irish Republicanism, as two branches of the same structure walking hand in hand over time, complementing one another and achieving partial success in the end.

Sources
Adams, Gerry. Before the Dawn: An Autobiography . New York: William Morrow and Company, 1996.
Bell, J. Bowyer. The IRA, 1968-2000: Analysis of a Secret Army. 7; 7. Vol. Portland, OR; London: Frank Cass, 2000.
Bell, J. Bowyer. The Secret Army: The IRA. New Brunswick, N.J., U.S.A: Transaction Publishers, 1997.
Coogan, Tim Pat. The IRA. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2000.
Durney, James. The Volunteer: Uniforms, Weapons and History of the Irish Republican Army 1913-1997. Gaul House, 2004.
Economic Resistance. Republican Lecture Series no. 7. Sinn Fein Education Department, 1984.
English, Richard. Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA. London: Macmillan, 2003.
Feeney, Brian. Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years. Dublin: O’Brien Press, 2002.
Ferriter, Diarmaid. Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s. London: Profile, 2012.
Gallagher, Michael, Ph.D. Political Parties in the Republic of Ireland. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985.
Griffith, Arthur. The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland. Dublin: James Duffy : M.H. Gill & Son : Sealy, Bryers & Walker, 1904.
Hanley, Brian and Scott Millar. The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party. Penguin, 2010. Laffan, Michael.
The Resurrection of Ireland: The Sinn Féin Party, 1916-1923. New York, N.Y; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Melaugh, Martin. The Hunger Strike of 1981 – A Chronology of Main Events. CAIN: Conflict Archive on the Internet. Retrieved March 16, 2015 at < http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/hstrike/chronology.htm&gt;.
Murray, Gerard, and Jonathan Tonge. Sinn Féin and the SDLP: From Alienation to Participation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
O’Brien, Brendan. The Long War: The IRA and Sinn Féin, 1985 to Today. Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 1993.
Patterson, Henry. The Politics of Illusion: A Political History of the IRA. London: Serif, 1997.
Taylor, Peter. Provos: The IRA and Sinn Fein. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.
Tonge, Jonathan. Northern Ireland: Conflict and Change. New York; Harlow: Prentice Hall, 2002.
Treacy, Matt, and Ebrary Academic Complete (Canada) Subscription Collection. The IRA 1956-69: Rethinking the Republic. New York; Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011.
Violence and Civil Disturbances in Northern Ireland in 1969 – Report of Tribunal of Inquiry. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1972.
White, Robert W. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh: The Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire, Part 25 (of 26)

Many thanks to HC for this tip-off. An interesting survey by Simon Kuper of The Financial Times of mainland European views on Brexit and the Brits. Not pleasant reading for BoJo and his merry band…..

Never Mind A Hard Border, This PSNI Idiot Will Restart Troubles All By Himself

You really couldn’t make up this front page story in today’s News Letter. Who gave this berk the top job in the PSNI?

His name, apparently, is Simon Byrne. Shouldn’t it be Simon Trump?

Here is the equally mind-blowing text that followed:

Violent paramilitaries face losing their children to state care, Northern Ireland’s new chief constable has warned.

Simon Byrne said people engaged in shootings are unfit to have custody of a youngster, and pledged to target them.

“My message to them is ‘you carry on doing this, we will have your house, if you keep going we will have your car, we will have your kids, we will have your benefits and we will put you in jail’.”

He added: “Why would I think you are safe in the presence of young children? So what safeguarding powers have we got to take your kids into care if that is a deterrent?

“I think we need to be more assertive, work with other agencies within the law to make people think twice before stepping into this space.”

Mr Byrne said it is time for communities to tell dissidents enough is enough.

“The use of paramilitary attacks, beatings, breaking people’s legs, other limbs, in the name of the rule of law is just odious.

“How anyone could think that is justified in a civil society is beyond me.

He criticised parents of children involved in disorder.

“The children I watched, I am guessing were early teenagers.

“I just found it strange that an adult would sit and watch as if it was evening entertainment, rather than actually intervene to stop anything.

“It relied on my officers driving past in the Land Rover that clearly became the target for the petrol bomb, and that seemed to be part of the sport, which I think was entirely unacceptable.”

Police have exercised stop-and-search powers around 35,000 times between 2010 and last year. In most circumstances an officer will need grounds to conduct a search.

The Justice and Security NI Act 2007 provides for searches without grounds to counter terrorism or if there is a risk of serious violence or disorder.

Mr Byrne said it is impossible to compare NI’s statistics to England, where use of the power has decreased, because its figures are so strongly influenced by London.

He said there is no like-for-like comparison between the powers used in NI in many cases and in Great Britain.

“We use the power to deter criminality and we put other agencies and partners into that space to calm things down and to build relationships and opportunities in those communities, so I am not calling for stop and search to stop.

“I think it needs to be used carefully, we need to ensure we are fair, we are proportionate and work within the law, but actually, at the same time as people have concerns, other communities want to see more of it.”

 

 

Death Of Peace People Founder Ciaran McKeown

When people who were your contemporaries when you were young and fit start to pop off, then it is time to get worried. I knew Ciaran McKeown quite well when we were both students at QUB, he the president of the Students’ Union and me a first year undergraduate who did some work for the university paper Gown.

So his death yesterday is a reminder of one’s own mortality. He is of course best known for his part in the creation in 1976 of the Peace People along with Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty vision but even back then it was clear that the naivete and contradictions inherent in the Peace People, essentially that only the IRA was to blame for the violence, would be the movement’s undoing.

Ciaran had left The Irish Press to start the Peace People so when the movement finally disintegrated he had no job and was essentially unemployable. The last time I saw him was when, as Northern Editor of The Irish Times, I hired him to transcribe the tape recording of Ian Paisley’s famous Kincora press conference at the Martyr’s Memorial church in east Belfast.

By chance I recently came across the clip of a news broadcast dated from August 1969 showing Ciaran urging the Irish government to invade the North in the wake of Loyalist attacks on Nationalist areas. What crazy days they were:

This Sort Of British Move More Likely To Re-Ignite Troubles Than A Hard Border

The article below by the News Letter’s Sam McBride which appeared last Thursday illustrates where, in my view, the danger of renewed violence in the North really lies.

Not at a Brexit-bred hard Border but by the British indulging the DUP in order to keep Boris Johnson in Downing Street and in the process abandoning the balance implicit in the Good Friday Agreement.

Now, you could argue that the Northern Ireland Office’s decision to remove the British monarch’s photograph from the walls of Stormont House was a step too far in the direction of Sinn Fein. And you would be right, even though human rights legislation and not just an over-indulgent NIO official could be blamed.

But having taken that decision, a new Northern Secretary reversing it at this sensitive time sends a pretty loud message, particularly since Unionists were outraged at the decision to remove royal portraits and putting them back looks like a climb-down to pressure.

If I was a Shinner or one of their supporters I’d be worried. You can read the full article here:

Me, Peter Taylor And The Provos

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.

Peter Taylor

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.