WikiLeaks blows dust layer off dubious past of SF

Tue, Dec 14, 2010, 00:00

ANALYSIS:Virtually no one believes Adams’s bank robbery denials. Fresh suspicions will hit party electoral prospects

WHEN CAMPAIGNING in Louth in the forthcoming general election, Gerry Adams will major on how the banks screwed the Republic. He must know that his opponents will major on how republicans screwed the banks.

The latest WikiLeaks disclosures about who knew what and when about the Northern Bank robbery won’t surprise anybody, and shouldn’t in any way shake the relative political stability here in the North, but it will raise credibility issues for Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin candidates in the general election in the South.

The Sinn Féin president and Martin McGuinness typically followed the tried and trusted route of attack being the best method of defence when responding to the WikiLeaks about then taoiseach Bertie Ahern being convinced they both knew in advance of the IRA plan to rob the Northern Bank of £26.5 million (€31.35 million) at Christmas six years ago.

They didn’t know, they insisted. The allegations of prior knowledge were “unfounded”, “groundless and untrue”.

Sinn Féin also held to the line there was “not a shred of evidence” linking the IRA to the December 2004 robbery of the Northern Bank in central Belfast.

After the robbery, Bertie Ahern was happy to have it known to the American ambassador to Dublin James Kenny that the government had “rock solid evidence” that Messrs Adams and McGuinness were members of the IRA military command and knew in advance of the plans for the robbery.

Yesterday, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern was equally happy to confirm such was his and the Government’s conviction at the time, and this belief was based on intelligence received by the State. It was still his belief.

Here it is worth recalling why the Northern Bank robbery took place. It happened just weeks after the real prospect of a powersharing agreement between Gerry Adams and the then DUP leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, collapsed.

That deal fell over demands by Dr Paisley for photographic evidence of IRA decommissioning, which republicans refused. This was aggravated by remarks by Dr Paisley at the time about the need to “humiliate” republicans and their requirements to “wear sack cloth and ashes”.

There are still mixed high-level opinions on why the IRA (allegedly) carried out the Northern Bank robbery at Christmas six years ago.

One theory is that the IRA would have executed the robbery even if Dr Paisley had signed a powersharing deal.

The second theory, supported by a number of senior security and political sources, is that the robbery would not have gone ahead – even though it was in planning at the time – had the Paisley-Adams deal been concluded. When the deal crashed, the republican hardliners had to have their day.

But it all backfired hugely for Sinn Féin and the IRA. Early in 2005, the IRA murdered Robert McCartney outside a city centre bar and expected to get away with it. They reckoned without the McCartney sisters. Such was the public outcry that later in 2005 the IRA was compelled to move to the background and decommission.

It is fascinating here to observe the different attitudes to the republican movement North and South. First Minister Peter Robinson was sanguine when questioned about the WikiLeaks yesterday at a British-Irish Council meeting in the Isle of Man. There should be no surprise that Adams and McGuinness were aware of the planned robbery, he said. “The bigger surprise is that they continue to try and deny it,” he said matter-of-factly.

In Northern Ireland, people understand the complexities of peace processing, of the use of double-speak, of necessary fictions, and of the duplicity and double-standards that sometimes go hand in hand with politics. What’s key is that the IRA war is over – and it is.

But it is different in the South. Brand Sinn Féin didn’t sell as well there as north of the Border. In the 2007 general election, the party had very high hopes but they lost a seat and were reduced to four in the Dáil. There was a lingering concern that supporting Sinn Féin could bring some of the Northern political and criminal contamination to the Republic.

People remembered the Northern Bank and Robert McCartney, and wondered about some of Gerry Adams’s assertions about his past.

But with the passage of time those matters appeared to have been safely confined to the background. Now, however, with WikiLeaks they are under the spotlight again. When Adams and his candidates give interviews to the press or engage in head-to-heads with political opponents, they will have to deal with what they hoped were buried issues, before they can start sticking it into Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, the banks and the speculators.

Adams will hardly have any great difficulty taking Louth. But he and his party really could have done without this serious distraction. WikiLeaks bringing all these issues back on to the agenda could have an impact on some marginal seats where it is touch and go whether Sinn Féin can make gains. Adams will have to again deny that he was ever in the IRA – knowing that virtually no one will believe him.

He will have to again deny that he had prior knowledge of the Northern Bank robbery. He may even have to say he believes the IRA when it said it did not rob the Northern Bank – even though there is hardly a republican in west Belfast who believes it.

He may have to try to rubbish the WikiLeaks disclosures about the IRA laundering its money from robberies, racketeering and other forms of criminality by diversifying into legitimate businesses, including property investments.

Be sure his adversaries will exploit every opportunity to put him and the party on the back foot as he persists with what most people now feel are unnecessary and preposterous fictions.

Gerry Moriarty is Northern Editor

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