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Adams finds dead not gone away

IIN the hierarchy of 3,300 deaths during the 30 years of the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland, the 13 people at the top are the victims of the Parachute Regiment in Derry on 'Bloody Sunday' in January 1972.

The public inquiry into their deaths under Lord Saville sat for 12 years and cost £195m (€230m). It attracted worldwide attention and led to an apology read out in the House of Commons by the British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The 12 people, seven women and five men, burned to death by two IRA blast incendiary bombs at the La Mon House hotel on the outskirts of east Belfast in February 1978, are among the forgotten dead of the violence in Northern Ireland. The IRA killed around 2,000 of the people who died in the Troubles.

Gerry Adams denies he was a member of the IRA throughout the entirety of the Troubles. It is alleged that he was a very senior member for most of that time and even Chief of Staff for three years, from 1979 to 1982, before he became the public face and leader of Sinn Fein from 1983 onwards.

He was also MP for West Belfast from 1983, with a gap of five years, until last November when he resigned the seat in order to contest the Dail seat held by Sinn Fein's Arthur Morgan in Louth.

Adams's persistent denial of his IRA membership continues and last week solicitors on his behalf wrote to the Evening Herald threatening legal action. Adams has made previous legal threats to newspapers, but has never followed through with action.

Throughout his time as a Northern politician the denial was consistent, but it was a world-weary denial. The allegation rarely seemed to anger him. This may be because in his Belfast constituency, the suggestion that he might once have been a leading member of the IRA could do a nationalist politician in the North as much good with his constituents as it might do harm.

And maybe he realised that that photograph of him that kept appearing in the media, in which he is wearing a black beret at a republican gathering, just made the denials sound implausible. Either that or he would have to say he just liked dressing up, or was an IRA wannabe -- none of which would have been big vote-getters in Belfast.

Now that he is running for election to the Dail in the Republic, the story is different. The people of Louth have shown that they will not necessarily turn their back on a former IRA man -- they elected Arthur Morgan. But Gerry Adams is not just another candidate, he is the leader of his party in this election and, as such, must seek to make a wider impression nationally.

It was inevitable once he decided to go down this path that his alleged past would be brought up again and again by media interviewers and by political opponents. He has had to deal with it in radio and TV debates and out on the hustings. The Adams of old would have brushed it aside. But these days he is becoming increasingly agitated every time the question is raised and has even displayed his temper.

This reflects the fact that he is now playing a high-stakes game. In the North he may be Gerry the man who might or might not have been high up in the IRA and Gerry the peacemaker.

Down here he struggles -- and more importantly his party, which aspires to a place in government or, at least, a kingmaker role, struggles.

That struggle is not helped by the cloud over its leader. because down here for many people, being a possible onetime top IRA man means being someone with blood on your hands, either for the many atrocities carried out by that organisation over the years with bombings and shootings, or for the sinister "disappearances" of those accused of betraying the IRA.

And down here the peacemaker tag is not so readily accepted. We tend to feel that if a man sets fire to your house and later helps to put out the blaze, he shouldn't come looking for hero status after the event.

For those of us who live in the Republic, there is no temptation to think of the IRA in any terms other than as a terrorist organisation which operated for years without any mandate, only entering the political arena when it suited them. The term brings up memories, for example, of the La Mon House bombing.

At the time, the IRA was mounting a bombing campaign against hotels, restaurants and other business premises with the intention of driving commercial investment out of Northern Ireland.

Several other hotels were attacked and in other instances guests and staff were evacuated after warnings giving them only minutes, even seconds, to spare. The telephone warning about the bombs in La Mon was received by police only nine minutes before the explosions which sent two massive fireballs through a function room where the annual dinner of the Irish Collie Club was in progress.

The bombs consisted of one-gallon petrol cans filled with petrol mixed with washing up liquid, a home-made form of the military napalm firebomb. A stick of gelignite was attached to the can, creating the explosion and fireball. The addition of washing-up liquid made the burning fuel stick to surfaces it encountered -- including the skin of the 45 people in the room, 12 of whom were burned to death. The dead included three married couples

In another larger function room in the hotel that night were 400 members of the Northern Ireland Junior Motorcycle Club, including many children, and 90 staff who all had to flee the building as the room with the Collie Club members was turned into an inferno. Afterwards the IRA issued a statement blaming the police for not acting fast enough on their telephone warning.

The police produced phone records to show the warning was relayed by them to the hotel staff by phone within two minutes of being received. Staff at reception were very busy and it took almost a minute to answer the phone.

Speaking in the House of Commons on the 25th anniversary of La Mon, the then MP for North Down, Iris Robinson, named Gerry Adams as leader of the IRA in Belfast at the time.

Adams was among 20 suspected IRA members arrested over the bombing. He was charged with being a member of the IRA, but the charges were dropped the following year. On his release it is alleged that he was made Chief of Staff, succeeding Seamus Twomey from West Belfast, Adams's mentor, an allegation that Adams has consistently denied.

In his posthumously published memoir, Brendan Hughes, Gerry Adams's once-close associate in the IRA, said Adams was in charge of the IRA no-warning bomb campaign in Belfast which culminated in a series of 22 car bomb explosions, killing 11 people and injuring hundreds in Belfast on Friday, July 21, 1972. The day became known as 'Bloody Friday'.

As Mrs Robinson pointed out in her speech on the La Mon massacre, there have been no public inquiries into any of the IRA atrocities involving the killing of innocent civilians.

After the Troubles officially ended with the calling of the second ceasefire in 1997, the IRA continued in existence and became the fundraising arm of the 'Republican Movement', encompassing both Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. It also continued to carry out murders, including those of Robert McCartney in Belfast in January 2005 and of Joseph Rafferty in Dublin in April 2006. Both men were innocent. Their murders were not sanctioned by the IRA leadership, but those involved were subsequently protected by the leadership. After the murder of Robert McCartney, a special IRA unit whose job is to clean away forensic evidence was called to the bar where he was stabbed to death.

According to gardai, the Provisional IRA still exists, despite its public statement in 2006 to have disbanded.

Gardai also suspect the IRA was responsible for last month's highly professional break-in at the Revenue Commissioner's investigations office at Ashtown in Dublin. It is believed the 11 laptop computers taken in the raid contained details of some of the IRA's property portfolio.

The purchasing of property was a way of laundering the huge amounts of cash, still being generated, by a variety of criminal operations, but mainly from fuel laundering and cigarette smuggling.

In Adams's own words, spoken outside Belfast City Hall in the wake of the second ceasefire, the IRA "has not gone away, you know".

Though, these days Gerry Adams seems to wish it would. At least until after the election.

Sunday Independent