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Malachi O'Doherty

Gerry Adams has had his conviction for attempting to break out of Long Kesh overturned... but was he really trying to escape?

Malachi O'Doherty

The Supreme Court decision could now lead to millions of pounds in compensation for people unlawfully interned, says Malachi O'Doherty


Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes in Long Kesh

Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes in Long Kesh

Mary Travers, who was killed by the IRA in an attack on her magistrate father

Mary Travers, who was killed by the IRA in an attack on her magistrate father

Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes in Long Kesh

So, Gerry Adams isn't a convicted criminal after all. As a life-long republican, the closest associate of green-booked IRA volunteers, who had been told to expect either death or imprisonment, Adams has found old age, an easy conscience and a clean record.

An ironic part of his having his convictions quashed for attempting to escape from internment in Long Kesh is that, at the time, he wanted those convictions.

The second most ironic part is that he wasn't trying to escape at all. The entire point of the operation was to get arrested and convicted, and then moved to the wing where the sentenced men were.

That plan worked and Gerry Adams was made officer commanding the bombers and gunmen in Cage 11.

That he was an OC over men like Bobby Sands and Danny Lennon and Bik McFarlane should not, of course, be taken to mean that he was himself a member of the IRA.

That question was dealt with later by the High Court in Belfast in another of Adams's legal victories.

When he was charged with membership of the IRA evidence was prepared and a witness was standing by to say that he had seen Adams receive a flag-lowering homage in Long Kesh one Easter Sunday.

Adams had referred to the IRA men on the run at an ard fheis in the first person plural, but his lawyer P J McGrory introduced a plea of No Bill.

This was a request to Justice Lowry, and he decided in advance of the trial that there was no case to answer. Adams would not even have to recognise the court and plead not guilty. Lowry examined the papers and agreed.

And these aren't the only occasions of Gerry befuddling the efforts of those who would have put him away.

In 1983 he was charged with disorderly behaviour. This followed some antics while electioneering in the New Lodge Road area with a tricolour from the window of a car.

It was a gratuitous charge, but if you believe, as some did, that he was then the chief of staff of the IRA - an appointment which, like OC Cage 11, perhaps does not require one to actually be a member of the IRA - then the outcomes might have been historically significant, especially so if you believe that Gerry Adams was a vital linchpin of the peace process and that the eclipsing of the military wing by the political would not have happened without him.

Magistrate Tom Travers adjourned the hearing for lunch. Adams asked for permission to stay in the court building over the lunch period for his own security and this was refused. Travers went home to his daughters to eat with them.


Mary Travers, who was killed by the IRA in an attack on her magistrate father

Mary Travers, who was killed by the IRA in an attack on her magistrate father

Mary Travers, who was killed by the IRA in an attack on her magistrate father

Adams and his friends drove up to Long's on Grosvenor Road for fish and chips and were ambushed by the UDA on the way.

The bullet-riddled car made it to the Royal Victoria Hospital and, instead of hearing the sentence that Travers had in mind for him that afternoon, Adams was sitting up on a hospital trolley giving an interview to Eamonn Mallie.

The guns used in the attack had, apparently, been interfered with. Or perhaps it was just shoddy gear (what do I know?). The men survived. The UDA team led by John Gregg was intercepted by British soldiers. And, by the time Adams was fit to return to court, Tom Travers was not. The guns used in an IRA ambush on him and his family coming from Mass two weeks later were also flawed, but more effective.

Gunmen killed Travers's daughter Mary, a primary school teacher, and wounded Travers himself. Shots aimed at the head of Travers's wife failed. The gun jammed.

The weapons had been relayed to the scene down a pair of surgical tights worn by Mary McArdle.

Travers identified one of the gunmen as the late Joe Haughey, but his evidence was not accepted and Haughey was acquitted.

When he returned to work he sought out the file on Gerry Adams to complete the disorderly behaviour hearing, but he was told that it was lost and the case could not proceed.

So, Gerry Adams is used to good outcomes in court.

It was Christmas Eve when he staged a charade of trying to escape from Long Kesh.

Other men in the huts watched amazed and scoffed at his apparent stupidity. He and three other men were approaching a high metal fence with wire-cutters.

They had no more prospect of getting out of the camp by that route than they had of reaching the Moon. And they knew it.

We can't know what to believe of Adams's own accounts of the "escape" attempt. He has developed the story in different ways at different times in his own writing.

He described the antics of the men to distract attention and help others to get away. He says one of them put on an English accent to confuse the soldiers and barked orders at them.

In one version a British officer came to Adams in his cell, where he was frightened and close to tears, pleading with other IRA men in neighbouring cells to behave and not make things worse. The officer gave Adams a cigarette and wished him "Happy Christmas, Paddy".

Adams has been acquitted of the crime of trying to escape from internment because he was not legally interned. His papers were signed by someone not authorised to decide against him.

Adams had as much legal right to escape from Long Kesh as from a kidnapper.

He has pulled off an amazing coup here and it may lead to millions of pounds being paid out in compensation to those whose custody orders were also not legally valid. It offers nothing to those whose internment was legal.

And that is another irony, given that those republicans who were interned would never have acknowledged the legitimacy of their detention anyway.

When Adams was interned he was lifted along with men who were proud to proclaim their membership of the IRA, like Brendan Hughes, who did actually escape from Long Kesh.

In Cage 11 Adams taught the men that they were political soldiers. He dismissed the idea being put about by some who sympathised with them that the IRA was made up of people caught up in circumstances.

They asserted that the state was illegitimate and, therefore, nothing it did had a sound legal basis.

So, the greatest irony of all is that he has now sought absolution from the highest British court and is glad to have it.

Belfast Telegraph