Did Gerry Adams lead the IRA or did he not? There are two stock answers to this. One is the affirmative and the other is an evasion.
The claim that he was a leader of the IRA has been made in much of the media. It has come from security briefings by both the Army and the police.
Gerry Adams has been named by his own friends and comrades as an IRA leader. Some of these were disaffected republicans who did not like the direction in which he took the movement.
The BBC broadcast a Spotlight programme in the 1990s in which it named several members of the IRA army council and other leading republicans.
This programme identified Gerry Adams as a leader at the top.
None of this is news. The discussion on whether he was a member of the IRA has become tedious. It has got bogged down.
He personally denies it but |even he occasionally drops hints about why it might be necessary to not own up to a criminal past. He has qualified his own denial by saying that he does not want to distance himself from the IRA.
He does not want to give republicans the impression that |membership of the IRA is something that one should be ashamed of. But, faced as he was again |yesterday after the WikiLeaks |disclosures, with an opportunity to fess up, he replied with his familiar tactic of questioning the integrity of the motives of those who place him at the helm of republican terrorism.
This time the villain is Fianna Fail.
The WikiLeaks documents report that American diplomats understood that the Irish Department of Justice has ‘rock solid’ evidence that Gerry Adams was on the Army Council and would have known about the plans to rob the Northern Bank in December 2004.
Adams has deftly pitched |his reply in the service of his |forthcoming electoral contest against Fianna Fail. Faced |with claims that any other political figure would regard as embarrassing, he turns it into an opportunity to strike a blow in an election campaign that has not even started.
If allegations emerged tomorrow against the leader of any other political party that he or she had crimes to answer for, was believed by governments to be a robber and a killer, then all the resources of the British and Irish media would be turned on cracking that story.
With Adams, it is old hat.
People have made up their minds about him and mostly they have decided that it doesn’t matter. No journalist has landed a clean punch on him and most have given up trying.
Was he the IRA leader who organised Bloody Friday, who assented to the Northern Bank robbery?
Was he even, as claimed by Richard O’Rawe in his astonishing books about the Hunger Strikes — Blanketman and Afterlives — the cynical political manipulator who urged his comrades to starve themselves to death for political advantage?
All of these are plausible claims against him and none of them, to date, has done him any damage.
He has survived because on the other side of the moral balance he has delivered the peace process and most people seem to think that it would just be picky and indulgent to labour the point that he was the warrior who closed down his own campaign. Who else was going to do it?
But things may be about to change because Gerry Adams has shifted his field of operations to south of the border, specifically Co Louth.
It is one thing to chuckle up the sleeve at the failure of Northern politicians and journalists to nail you, knowing that they need you and that your own support base is going to share the joke and enjoy the deft way in which intrusive questions are mischievously fielded away: it is quite another to confront the big southern parties.
They don’t have the same investment in the peace process. And they are living through a period of political and economic instability which could deliver their worst nightmares, a riven and indecisive Dail.
The Irish Independent has argued that the polls show the possibility of a Labour/Sinn Fein Coalition supported by Independents running the Republic by the spring.
This is an incredible turnaround from the virtual collapse of Sinn Fein in the last election.
It is built on the huge loss of faith in the party that seemed assured of always picking its own coalition partners, Fianna Fail. The people are angry and disillusioned. It is in such a mood that electorates go for radical change, even wild cards.
To stop Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael can be expected to rally all the evidence and arguments they can marshal.
In the North, the etiquette of peace making has protected Gerry Adams.
In the South, the same parties which helped cover for him may see good reason now to try and destroy him.