Ahern hardened his stance toward SF after £26.5m robbery
Published 04/06/2011 | 17:00
FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was "generally considered softer" on the Provisional republican movement than either of his two key cabinet ministers during the northern peace talks.
But in the wake of the stg£26.5m Northern Bank robbery, Mr Ahern became "unprecedently critical" in public of Sinn Fein and greatly reduced his private contacts with the party, according to leaked diplomatic cables.
The view was expressed by former US Ambassador James Kenny in a 'confidential' dispatch he sent to Washington in June 2005.
He noted that the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams preferred to deal directly with Mr Ahern, rather than with his ministers.
Mr Kenny observed that the Irish Government was concerned about British "softness" (towards the Provisionals) and commented that this represented a role reversal.
"Usually, it is the UK that is concerned Ireland will be too accommodating to Sinn Fein. The Irish Government's eventual position will depend on the Taoiseach," Mr Kenny wrote.
"He is generally considered softer on the Provisional movement than either the Foreign Minister or Justice Minister.
"However, he believes Sinn Fein leaders were aware of plans to rob the Northern Bank even as they negotiated with him."
The ambassador reckoned that in deciding how to move forward, Mr Ahern was likely to look carefully at the IRA's response to Gerry Adams, given strong public feelings against IRA crime and paramilitarism.
Having a deal in place before the 2007 General Election would serve Mr Ahern's political interests best. However, more failed attempts to reach a deal would hurt him electorally, particularly if he were seen to have been played by Sinn Fein.
Mr Ahern's adviser on Northern Ireland, Michael Collins, told embassy officials the UK had offered Sinn Fein a package, but then withdrew it after the Northern Bank robbery.
He said the government was pleased at Prime Minister Tony Blair's re-election and Sinn Fein was aware that it was Mr Blair's "last lap".
But that played both ways. On the one hand, no successor was likely to be as engaged in the process as Mr Blair and he represented Sinn Fein's best hope of a deal. On the other hand, Sinn Fein also believed it could take advantage of Mr Blair's interest in getting a deal before leaving office.
Mr Kenny depicted Justice Minister Michael McDowell as "always the hardest-hitting of the Irish cabinet".
The ambassador noted how Mr McDowell had opened a meeting by saying the Good Friday Agreement presumed the IRA would go out of business but that it was still in business seven years later.
He said the Provisional movement regarded its arms cache as an embarrassment.
"Its Semtex and Kalashnikovs do not serve any useful purpose, he said, and the Provisionals do not want to leave weapons in the hands of the dissidents.
"He (McDowell) said the Provisionals consider their arms stash a political liability that undermines their claim to be pursuing their goals through peaceful means only," Mr Kenny said in the cable.
Mr McDowell believed the Provisionals wanted to close down the hardware side of their operation but had given no indication of loosening their grip on nationalist areas of Northern Ireland where the PSNI still did not go.
For that reason, he was of the view that the Provisionals wanted to hold on to personal weapons.
Mr McDowell then went on to give the ambassador the benefit of his experience on how to deal with the Provisionals.
"McDowell said some lessons had been learned about how to deal with them -- you only get concessions from the Provisionals when you put your hand on their throat."