By Jack Holland
It was the words, not the deeds of prominent members of the republican movement that last week caused a stir. It began with a tape recording of Martin McGuinness from 1972, played on National Public Radio at the weekend, during which he says that if any civilians were killed by IRA bombs it was “through their own fault.” It was followed by Gerry Adams denying during a BBC radio interview that he was in the IRA.
“I have been active, and it is a matter of public record, in Sinn Fein for all my time within republican politics,” Adams said Saturday on the “Inside Politics” program. “I have not been a member of the IRA.”
Informed observers were stunned by this declaration.
They point out that earlier this year, Marion Price, convicted for being part of a bomb team that attacked London in March 1973, said in public that Gerry Adams was “my commanding officer” at that time.
It also flies in the face of other evidence.
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In June 1972, prior to a meeting between IRA leaders and the British government, Adams was one of two republican delegates (the other being Daithi O’Conaill) who negotiated a truce between the IRA and the British army. According to the then IRA chief of staff, Sean MacStiofain, the British said to “David and Gerry”: “By the way, do make sure that all the booby-traps are deboobed.”
In all, says MacStiofain, 22 landmines were defused. Clearly, if Adams were not a member of the IRA, the army were talking to the wrong person.
In January 1973, Adams was photographed at the funeral of IRA man Francis Liggett dressed in the IRA’s black beret marching alongside the coffin with other IRA members.
In early 1977, Adams went to the home of a Belfast journalist who lived near Turf Lodge and worked for the BBC “Spotlight” program. He presented himself as representing the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional IRA.
In 1980, an undercover Special Branch officer followed Adams across the border during an investigation in an IRA counterfeiting operation.
In 1978, Adams was charged with membership of the IRA but was never convicted. Legal experts say that it is extremely difficult in Northern Ireland to prove membership alone. Almost always, it is a subsidiary charge, linked to others, such as possession of weapons or explosives.
A veteran police officer commented: “Adams was very good at covering his tracks. He always gave the orders which were carried out by the lower echelons.”