Book Reviews
& Book Forum

Search / Archive
Back to 10/96





Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Adams may be the next to go

(by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times)

After the departure of Ian Paisley could Gerry Adams be next to go, a victim of the settlement he helped to engineer?

Adams will be 60 in October, nothing like Paisley's 82 years, but a significant milestone in anyone's life none the less. Adams has a life outside politics and muttering is already starting against him. People are asking if he has outlived his usefulness and how much more he has to contribute.

Just as it happened to Paisley a few months earlier, the wolves are starting to circle and every so often one of them runs for to take a nip at him.

In recent days there have been several of straws in the wind – a suggestion by Niall O'Dowd that Adams should be replaced, an abusive article in the Andersonstown News, more suggestions of informers in his personal circle and, perhaps the cruellest blow of all, another crucial voice has emerged suggesting that, under Adams' leadership, hunger strikers were allowed to die for electoral purposes.

During the past couple of weeks O'Dowd, the New York based publisher and Irish American mover and shaker, has been touring Ireland with a class from the Colombia University Graduate school of Journalism who have recorded their experiences in a daily blog.

On Friday 21st March they met Adams in Sinn Féin offices after waiting in a Falls Road bar which, they complained, "smelled like a urinal". Before the meeting they were given some background.

"Describing him as a defining figure in Irish nationalism, O'Dowd discussed how despite all odds, Adams was able to hold the movement together with Martin McGuinness, current deputy minister of the new power-sharing government. After years of imprisonment, Adams didn't even see his son till the boy turned four years old" the students wrote before getting down to the business end of the presentation.

""Can he take it to the next stage?" O'Dowd questioned. "I don't think he can." He explained that Northern Ireland will probably need a younger successor to follow Adams and McGinnis (sic) in bridging the gap towards peace, someone who has less baggage and is unassociated with violence of years past."

O'Dowd's analysis makes a lot of sense but what gives it such punch is the person who says it. O'Dowd was the man who wrung a pre-election promise from Bill Clinton to grant Adams a visa to visit the states. For years O'Dowd gave Adams a column in his Irish Voice magazine, he provided the Sinn Féin leader with an entree to corporate Irish America.

O'Dowd has been one of Adams' closest friends and allies, backing Sinn Féin at crucial points in the peace process and being rewarded with insider briefing on the IRA's next move as it drifted slowly towards ceasefire and disarmament. O'Dowd likes to tell the story of how Adams played matchmaker and introduced him to the woman he later married.

When people that close to a politician start saying he had his day it has to be taken seriously.

Adams second unexpected blow, one he described as "offensive and hurtful", came from the Squinter column in the Andersonstown News, the local newspapers of his West Belfast constituency. Andersonstown News is published by Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, a former Sinn Féin councillor, and has taken an unabashedly pro Sinn Féin line on most issues.

The pseudonymous column, penned by a member of prominent republican family, takes as it point of departure the recent murder of Frank "Bap" McGreevy, a former IRA prisoner, and Harry Holland, a greengrocer, after confrontations with gangs of thugs.

Squinter then launches a scathing attack on Adams, pinning responsibility for most of the social problems of West Belfast on Adams.

"Who's to blame ... Gerry Adams is to blame" Squinter ranted.

"He's not the only one to blame, of course. But Gerry Adams is the MP, has been for 20 years. He's supposed to know how to marshal and direct; he's supposed to give us the ideas and the leadership; he's supposed to make things better. When he asks for, and gets, our votes he accepts a host of very onerous responsibilities, and the most basic of those responsibilities is to make his constituency a good place for decent people to live and for parents to bring up their families. In that he has failed terribly."

It's unfair and it's unbalanced, but it is a sign of the tide turning. The article was quickly taken off the Andersonstown News website and an apology printed, but it was too late, the horse has bolted. Squinter was picked up in major newspapers across the UK and Ireland, whatever O Muilleoir might do to limit the damage a taboo has been broken and Adams authority was weakened.

The next bombshell came in the Belfast Telegraph. There Eamon McCann, a columnist, provided independent corroboration that during the 1981 republican hunger strike the British has offered a deal which the prison leadership had accepted but which was turned down by Adams and the IRA Army Council.

The suggestion was first aired by Richard O'Rawe, himself a former IRA prison spokesman. His book Blanket Men provides a definitive history of the protest which resulted in the death of Bobby Sands and nine other prisoners.

O'Rawe, who was a spokesman for the republican prisoners at the time, maintained that the offer came after the first four hunger strikers died. He maintained that it was turned down because the outside leadership wanted to continue the strike until Owen Carron, who was standing for Westminster on a pro-prisoner ticket was elected. If O'Rawe was correct six men were allowed to die in order to get Sinn Féin a good start in electoral politics.

He has been smeared and vilified by Sinn Féin ever since. He claims to have discussed the issue with Brendan "Bik" McFarlane, the Officer Commanding the prisoners in Irish, and concluded "Ta go leor ann' (there's enough there).

McFarlane, a close ally of Adams, has consistently denied that there was any offer that the conversation ever took place or that Adams and the outside leadership ever pressed for a continuation of the hunger strike.

This week a former IRA prisoner who was on the same wing as McFarlane and O'Rawe broke his silence to confirm that he had witnessed the conversation.

"Richard isn't a liar. He told the truth in his book. I heard what passed between Richard and Bik (McFarlane). I remember Richard saying, 'Ta go leor ann,' and the reply, 'Aontaim leat.' There's just no question that that happened" he told McCann.

Slowly people are finding the courage to tell the truth and air their true feelings, even if it is inconvenient for Adams, and as that happens the Sinn Féin President is being steadily weakened.

On the sidelines it is being suggested that more and more members of his circles were police agents. This week two more of his former drivers, Paul "Chico" Hamilton and Jim "Boot" McCarthy, went public to try and scotch the rumours that have surrounded them. Both men were filmed by a police undercover surveillance abducting Martin McGartland, an informer but never charged despite McGartland's offer to give evidence against them.

The denials follow on the heels of the outing of Freddie Scappaticci, Denis Donaldson and Roy McShane, all of whom were Adams protégés and associates who were undoubtedly spying on him for the British government. Other rumours surround several more of his associates, including a relative.

These accusations may or may not all be true but their collective effect is to undermine the credibility of the man who led the republican struggle through war and destruction into ceasefire and disarmament to seats in Stormont and open support for the police.

It is a good thing that Adams took the republicans on that journey but at the end of it he emerges an incongruous figure, denying he was ever in the IRA, writing well crafted but evasive memoirs and attempting to make sense of it all. He hugs trees and told the journalism students that he is now "an a la carte Catholic-Buddhist"

Adams is showing a gentler side to himself, and we needn't doubt his sincerity but O'Dowd is right. He has left too many skeletons in the cupboard to be an effective leader in the new order he helped to create.

April 3, 2008

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on March 30, 2008.