The real 'teddy bear' in Adams's closet isn't cuddly
Published 27/12/2015 | 02:30
A mysterious figure who uses a pseudonym has been one of the Sinn Fein leader’s closest confidants for decades.
The nearest Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein have to an eminence grise is the bearded and white-haired 69-year-old Ted Howell from west Belfast.
Howell is said to be the figure whose advice Adams most closely follows. He was a constant background presence in the Sinn Fein delegation during the 1998 Belfast Agreement talks and was pictured on one occasion by photographer Alan Lewis as he and Adams conferred inside one of the Stormont complex offices.
Aside from that, there are only a few images of Howell, who disappeared from public view almost entirely in the 1970s and is believed by security sources to have spent a good deal of time abroad, meeting supporters or potential supporters of the Republican movement.
Howell is "#Ted", the "teddy bear" that Adams began tweeting about two years ago, causing considerable media speculation.
Adams, apparently, was highly amused at the media response to the teddy bear reference to his right-hand man.
It is understood that Howell attended St Mary's Grammar School in west Belfast, a year or two ahead of Adams, and they appear to have been close ever since.
Republican insiders say it was on Howell's advice that Adams decided to publicly deny he was ever a member of the IRA.
The reasons for this, outside Adams's and Howell's inner circle, are unknown. But the denial has caused Adams an amount of discomfort ever since.
Howell's other known faux pas is bringing British Intelligence Service (MI5) agent Denis Donaldson into Adams's inner circle or think-tank.
Donaldson was one of the best-placed agents the British had. He was exposed in 2005 and murdered in a Co Donegal cottage. No one has been charged.
Journalist and author Ed Moloney had this to say about Howell: "The most import- ant figure in the 'Think Tank', aside from Adams him- self, was a man who was virtually unknown outside the closed world of republicanism.
"Ted Howell was a highly secretive figure who for many years used a pseudonym in public, the legacy, it was said, of years spent on the European continent liaising with foreign groups on behalf of the Republican movement, during which he had to avoid the attentions of various intelligence agencies, not least of them the British Secret Service, MI6."
Moloney said Howell used the pseudonym Eamon McCrory while living incognito for years out of the sight of British intelligence.
The author says that Adams made reference to Howell in the acknowledgements to his book, A Pathway to Peace, in 1988, in which he wrote: "This essay could not have been written without the co-operation and encouragement of the 'Kitchen Cabinet'," he wrote. "I thank them. Thanks also to . . . Eamon 'Ted' McCrory for access to (his) material."
Moloney also cites one Sinn Fein source as depicting Howell's role at the time of the Good Friday talks.
"During the 1998 talks, Adams came into the room," recalled one source, "and somebody asked him, 'What's going on?' His reply was, 'I don't know, but Ted Howell does, and he's the only one who does'."
It was, Moloney says, Howell who was also the emissary that Adams sent to the US to gather support prior to the 1998 agreement and the earlier ceasefires.
Given the potential magnitude of Gerry Adams's public backing of Thomas 'Slab' Murphy and his attack on the non-jury Special Criminal Court, it is believed in republican and security circles that Adams would not have made his statement last Saturday without consulting Howell and possibly one or two others in his kitchen cabinet.
Informed sources say that the import of Adams's statement may have been lost on many people as it is tantamount to a threat to both the Republic and to the 'cessation' of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland.
It was described by one politically tuned-in source in the North as "sabre-rattling".
However, a return to the IRA's 'war' is highly unlikely, as garda sources say the IRA no longer has the capacity to re-start its terrorism campaign.