Why disillusioned republicans breached IRA’s code of secrecy
The contradiction that ran through the Provisional movement explains the anger of Gerry Adams’s accusers
Gerry Adams says that former colleagues who accuse him of having ordered the death of Jean McConville are driven by hostility to the peace process
Gerry Adams says that former colleagues who accuse him of having ordered the death of Jean McConville are driven by hostility to the peace process, by a conviction that he personally sold out the republican struggle and by the fact that they have had “their own demons” to deal with.
He is right that many of his accusers, including the two most prominent among them, Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes, both now dead, saw the Good Friday agreement as a betrayal of republicanism and regarded him as the man who had led the movement into acceptance of the shameful deal. He is right that both had been distraught toward the end of their lives at the way the IRA campaign had ended and, at a personal level, had been damagingly affected by the thought that their own armed actions had turned out to have been for nothing – or at least for nothing that came close to the objective the struggle had been aimed at. And he is right that these were the factors which prompted them to put their accusations on the record.
Telling the truth
But he isn’t obviously right in suggesting that these feelings caused them to concoct wicked lies to discredit him.
It is at least as likely that they broke the IRA’s code of secrecy because they believed it had been rendered meaningless by the strategy adopted by Adams and his close associates. On this reading, what they’d been driven to do was not to tell lies but to tell the truth.
The republican movement differed from groups involved in armed struggles elsewhere which are commonly likened to the IRA campaign in that republicans saw themselves not as fighting to achieve a political goal but as a legitimate army defending an actually existing republic.
In this perspective, a deal which others might regard as a major step towards an honourable peace was seen as a desertion of the battlefield. One of the statements regularly quoted in republican speeches at the height of the Troubles came from the most hallowed figure in the pantheon, Patrick Pearse, in “Ghosts”: “The man who in the name of Ireland accepts as a ‘final settlement’ anything less by one iota than separation from England is guilty of so immense an infidelity, so immense a crime against the Irish nation . . . that it were better for that man (as it were certainly better for his country) that he had not been born.”
Attached to a conviction that the republic Pearse had in mind and which he was to proclaim on the steps of the GPO and which had thereby acquired a de jure if not a de facto existence, this provided the moral sanction for IRA members to take lives and put their own at risk.