Belfast Telegraph

Bobby's story as credible as Mary Poppins

By Liam Clarke

Is Bobby Storey hoping for the role of Bert the chimney sweep in the remake of Mary Poppins? The thought arose when Big Bob, normally a man to be mentioned in hushed tones, went all wide-eyed to describe how the IRA had turned from a caterpillar into a butterfly and that was it.

Mr Storey might struggle a little with the Cockney accent, but then so did Dick van Dyke, but that added to the absurd charm, and so would Bobby Storey's west Belfast vowels.

"I think the Chief Constable and other perspectives out there see this in terms of the IRA being the caterpillar that's still there, where I think it's moved on, it's become a butterfly, it's flew away, it's gone, it's disappeared, and they need to evolve to that as well," the big man said in tones of wide-eyed wonder.

That was a Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious achievement, as Bert sung as he and Mary were surrounded by cartoon butterflies. Gerry Adams, sitting beside Mr Storey, had never been in the IRA, so he could only agree.

Mr Storey looked as if he was trying to keep a straight face. It was not his finest moment, and few believed him. Sinn Fein is supporting the police investigation, and George Hamilton will be more believed than anyone in the party on this issue.

The problem is, admitting the IRA exists can lead to a prison sentence or demands to know who is in it. Mr Storey would be showing either great courage, or incipient insanity, if he went that route.

Mr Adams is in an even worse bind. If he now says he was once in the IRA, he would be derided as a liar, since his previous denials could not be squared with an admission.

It is safe for Martin McGuinness to admit he was in the IRA, but only until 1974. That was the last date he was convicted of it, when he got 12 months in the Central Criminal Court in Dublin along with three months for withholding information about terrorism. He was still withholding information more recently. As a witness at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, he refused to give details about IRA personnel, even those who had already testified. He cited the "IRA honour code".

We all know what we are dealing with: an organisation that is withering and transforming but to which people feel bound. That is why it is silly asking Sinn Fein to come clean without immunity. Only a rare person would put himself and his friends in prison in middle-age. Mr Storey tried everything short of singing "Chim chim-in-ey, chim chim-in-ey chim chim cher-oo", but he didn't convince.

We need an outside body to pronounce, and it needs to be beyond the political control of Stormont - in other words not the PSNI directly, though it and the Garda will provide much of the intelligence. The National Crime Agency might be a useful starting-point, with perhaps an experienced Garda officer who has worked in the intelligence field. I'm sure they will take Mr Storey's views on board.

Belfast Telegraph


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