The WikiLeaks cables show that Gerry Adams’ denial of IRA criminality was laughed at by diplomats. They saw it as an effort by Mr Adams to create a bargaining chip he could trade-in later.
The Northern Bank robbery, formally denied by the IRA, took place shortly before Christmas 2004. Up to that point heists attributed to the IRA were generally tolerated by the two governments in the interests of the peace process.
The Northern Bank robbery, which netted more than £26m, was the last straw. In the aftermath Bertie Ahern lambasted Sinn Fein for denying all knowledge. “What sort of eejits do people take us for?” he asked publicly. James Kenny, the US Ambassador in Dublin, reported that the Irish government had “'rock solid evidence' that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were members of the IRA military command and for that reason, the Taoiseach is certain they would have known in advance of the robbery”.
Back channel contacts which Sinn Fein said it had with the DUP were broken off and the party was increasingly isolated.
By March 8, 2005, when the issue came up again in dispatches the initial anger had worn off and ways were being sought to get Sinn Fein out of the naughty corner and into the political process again.
The PSNI had already advised the Irish government that it was time to “lighten up” on republicans for fear of destabilising them.
A way had to be found of getting them back on course, but at the same time record breaking robberies and criminality could no longer be overlooked. So there was frustration.
Brian Cowen, the then Finance Minister, believed Sinn was playing a “double game” by “taking a hard line against criminality, but avoiding definitive action in order to retain manoeuvrability for final negotiations with unionists”.
He reported that the sisters of Robert McCartney, murdered by IRA members in 2005, had done a valuable service in poking through Sinn Fein equivocation.
From Washington, Gerry Adams’ denials that republicans were criminals was regarded as simply absurd. In fact it was probably partly grounded on dogma.
The IRA traditionally regarded itself as the legitimate government of Ireland so anything it did, even robbery or murder, was really an act of state.
The pressure following the robbery and the McCartney murder ultimately told on Sinn Fein, but this was still a frustratingly slow work in progress when the cables were actually written.