Gerry Adams would not have acted to stop the London Docklands bombing, which some republicans believed was the “best thing ever”, he admitted to government officials, according to newly declassified files.
Days after the IRA spectacularly ended its ceasefire in February 1996 with a massive explosion in the financial district, the then Sinn Féin leader secretly met with Irish government officials as the peace process lay in tatters.
The so-called Canary Wharf bombing killed two people and injured more than 100.
Confidential records of the meeting between Mr Adams and officials, just released into the National Archives in Dublin, show he told them he would have been forced to “override” any moral qualms he had about the attack “because of his republicanism”.
Mr Adams claimed that “he did not know in advance about the bomb” and that he was glad of this “because it would have raised serious dilemmas in terms of the moral imperative to prevent or report it”.
“He added that he would have been forced to override this; he would not have been able to tell people in advance because of his republicanism,” officials reported back to the Irish government on the meeting.
Sinn Féin had been frozen out of multi-party talks in Northern Ireland at the time despite the IRA having been on ceasefire for 17 months. Unionists were demanding the Provos also disarm before being allowed to participate in negotiations.
Mr Adams told officials the London bombing left him with “a hard decision to make” on whether to continue with his peace strategy.
“If he was not able to do so he would not rule out going back to the IRA on the basis of tactics or strategy,” the documents disclose.
“This was a very emotional thing. He would not want to abandon people and if he became ‘like you’, as officials, his community would distrust all he stood for.”
Mr Adams stressed to the officials that his remarks to them were “strictly confidential” and warned against them appearing in the newspapers “with rubbish about bodies in the streets”.
Three days later, in another secret meeting with officials, Mr Adams accepted the London bombing had delivered the peace process “an awful kick in the balls” but he pleaded for recognition “that we were in the end game of all of this”.
In an ominous warning, ahead of a renewed bombing campaign in Britain, Mr Adams said nobody knew what could happen next and that he “didn’t know if there were other bombing teams in Britain or how many”.
There were also concerns that bombs could be used to “embarrass Sinn Féin or those who spoke to them,” he said, adding that there were “different views among republicans about the bombing of Canary Wharf”.
“Some people thought it was the best thing ever. Some felt it was justified by the experience of the previous 18 months. However there were others who saw beyond this, and the debate was continuing.”
On his influence over the IRA, Adams said it depended on what help he was given by the British and Irish governments.
Mr Adams referred to a comment from then secretary of state for Northern Ireland Patrick Mayhew that the Sinn Féin leader “was in a bad way and needed help”.
Urging support from the Irish government, he recalled joking with then taoiseach John Bruton that the only difference between them both “so far as the British were concerned, was that Mr Adams was the one with the beard”.
“The British approach everything from an empire mentality,” he said.
In other files, it was disclosed that Martin McGuinness warned officials that his own movement would turn on him if he accepted British demands for IRA decommissioning at the time.
John Chilcot, then at the Northern Ireland Office in June 1995, told an Irish diplomat that Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness were “irreplaceable” and the “last hope for progress” in ending the Troubles.
It would be unwise to push them too hard on decommissioning, he accepted.
Mr Chilcot said “Martin McGuinness had indicated that his life would be in danger from within his own movement if he agreed to British demands. Adams had made the same point to Mayhew”.
Records of a later meeting between Adams and Irish officials in September 1999, after the Belfast Agreement, show he was pressing for a “Plan B” in the event that unionists would scupper moves to establish a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland as well as North-South bodies.
It would be “helpful if British ministers could gently and privately convey” to unionists that if the agreement failed “change would continue” to be delivered under both the British and Irish governments, he suggested.
Adams “stressed the importance” of Northern representatives in the Oireachtas “including in a plan B context”.