Wednesday 26 November 2014

Peace process handed Adams a ticket to 'his Republic'

Albert Reynolds deserved praise for bringing about the ceasefire but the IRA threat has never gone away

Published 31/08/2014 | 02:30

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

In a private conversation after one of his last appearances on RTE to comment on the peace process, Albert Reynolds said he had a specific aim in an IRA ceasefire: improving the Irish economy. Ireland, he pointed out, appeared in the international media for only one reason, the IRA and its campaign of bombing and terrorism. No multi-national company leader would want to locate in a country only known abroad for its terrorist bomb outrages, he said. He made an IRA ceasefire his "number one priority".

His approach, he said, was to "embrace" Gerry Adams and "keep him in a bear hug" no matter what.

There was a good deal of "no matter what" as Albert drove the process towards the first IRA ceasefire.

At 9.20pm, on April 10, 1992, the IRA detonated its biggest ever bomb outside the Baltic Exchange at Number 30, St Mary Axe, in the heart of the City of London. The bomb caused an estimated £800m worth of damage. Three people - one a 15-year-old girl - were killed and 91 were injured.

On Saturday, October 23, the same year, another IRA bomb exploded in Frizzell's fish shop on the Shankill Road in Belfast, killing nine innocent Protestants and precipitating a real crisis in the North. In the loyalist backlash, some 14 Catholics and two Protestants were killed in a series of sectarian attacks culminating in the murders of eight people at the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel, Co Derry, on October 30.

At the time, loyalists were firmly of the belief that a "pan-nationalist front" involving John Hume, Adams and the Dublin government was in place and intent on driving a united Ireland agenda. Albert Reynolds did an incredible job in keeping the wheels on his ceasefire project as this was taking place.

As well as maintaining his firm embrace on Adams, Reynolds opened secret channels to the loyalists and, he said later, invited the loyalist paramilitary leaders to a secret meeting in Dublin.

The meeting took place in a suite he had reserved on the top floor of Jury's Hotel in Ballsbridge. At the time, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was intent on a bloody bombing campaign in the Republic which, it would later emerge, was thwarted only because the RUC had intercepted its stock of TNT and replaced it with identically coloured and harmless moulding clay.

This prevented what might have been one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles, when the UVF planted a bomb at the Widow Scallan's pub in Pearse Street, in Dublin, in May 1994, when it was packed downstairs during a major soccer game and upstairs with a Sinn Fein social event - only the detonator exploded. The Widow Scallan's pub attack and others, similarly thwarted - on the Dublin-Belfast train as it pulled into Connolly Station and at a Sinn Fein office in Clones - were its response to the "pan-nationalist" conspiracy fears. The RUC Special Branch, much demonised since, has never received any thanks for the lives it saved in the Republic at this time.

The IRA and the UVF had reached levels of professionalism in terrorism through decades of practice and posed a very great threat to stability on the island. The less-sophisticated Ulster Defence Association, which carried out the Greysteel attack, was also killing innocent Catholics on a random and frequent basis.

In April 1994, the IRA had repeated its City of London attack, this time planting another enormous bomb outside the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (now HSBC) in Bishopsgate, flattening the surrounding area and killing one news photographer. Rather than presaging a new dawn of peace, the attacks were driving Northern Ireland to the brink of disaster. On July 11, 1994, the IRA assassinated Ray Smallwoods, the UDA figure who was, at that stage, clearly known as the single most important advocate of a loyalist ceasefire and key to their side of the secret negotiations then under way. The IRA ceasefire was announced six weeks later. The loyalists followed suit the month after.

The Sunday Independent was vilified, as the ceasefire approached, for having taken a position of opposition to the Hume-Adams talks and the nascent peace process in the North. The reason for this newspaper's opposition to the secret talks process - the dangerous context of inviting the IRA into a political process while its terrorism campaign was in full flow - was completely justifiable.

Much of the rest of the Irish media, prompted by advocates in government and by Sinn Fein's spin doctors, adopted and maintained a position of cheerleaders for the process and turned a blind eye to the continued IRA violence and massive criminality - raising money that was being funnelled increasingly to its political wing.

The IRA went on to murder more than 40, mostly innocent, people in the aftermath of the 1994 ceasefire, embark on another bombing campaign in Britain in 1997 during a break in the ceasefire and has never decommissioned its arsenal, despite claims to the contrary in 2005.

Almost all this was blithely ignored by a remarkable amount of Irish and British journalists and commentators.

The IRA leaders for the decade before the ceasefire and thereafter - Adams and McGuinness - are still the leadership of Sinn Fein today. And, there are still reasons to be concerned at their long-term strategy in relation to the governance of the Republic and Northern Ireland, despite the creatively benign ambiguities that have grown around them.

This year, Adams precipitated a crisis in the Northern Ireland Assembly by ordering his party to oppose cuts to the social welfare budget.

The reason, it is widely speculated, is that he did not wish his party's advance in the Republic to be stymied by being seen to support welfare cuts in Northern Ireland. .

Sinn Fein has consolidated its political power base in Northern Ireland, having eclipsed the SDLP in the aftermath of the Hume-Adams talks and the peace process. It has not much left in terms of electoral or political gains in Northern Ireland but a great deal to gain in the Republic.

Adams has firmly set his aim on power in the Republic. He will be alongside a Sinn Fein mayor of Dublin at the GPO when the 1916 commemoration takes place in 18 months' time.

His intervention, late in his career, in the political life of the Republic suggests something of his addressing work left undone. He certainly showed no particular interest in the Republic or its political life prior to his election in Louth in 2011.

On arriving south of the Border he continued for some time to mispronounce the name of his own constituency - "Louth" as in "mouth" and its adjoining county "Meath" as in "teeth", a common northern trait.

The fact is that for most of his life Adams has hated and sought to destroy the institutions of the "Free State" - the other derogative term used by Sinn Fein.

If he achieves his aims in Leinster House, he would, almost certainly, introduce various Sinn Fein-driven agendas in government.

Sinn Fein has a stock of issues it could pursue to dangerous lengths if in government: raking over British 'collaboration' with loyalists; compensation for various republican "victims"; and, if it could, prise open files in the Department of Justice, even expose "Free State" collaboration with the Brits.

A crisis in Northern Ireland could suddenly become a crisis for the Republic.

In the private conversation about getting Adams in his bear hug, Reynolds was talking before the economy imploded and amid the euphoria over Sinn Fein and the DUP getting into bed together at Stormont.

Reynolds' short-term aim of stopping the bombs and boosting the economy came and went. Adams's long-term aim of a "32-county socialist republic" - in his own actual and unwithdrawn words - has yet to be achieved.

Sunday Independent

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