Belfast Telegraph

No claims of 'securocrats' or protests at police stations so is Sinn Fein finally acting like any normal party?

President of Sinn Fein Gerry Adams is flanked by Bobby Storey at a funeral in west Belfast in March 2008
President of Sinn Fein Gerry Adams is flanked by Bobby Storey at a funeral in west Belfast in March 2008

By Malachi O'Doherty

The Sinn Fein reaction to the arrest of Bobby Storey is more muted than might have been expected.

It certainly contrasts with past reactions. When Gerry Adams was arrested in May last year the party dusted down an old speech about "securocrats" who were determined to wreck the peace process.

Martin McGuinness spoke of "dark forces" in the PSNI.

That language was shelved again when Adams came out, steadied party nerves and reassured the country of his support for the PSNI.

His main gripe was about the quality of the food in Antrim Serious Crime Suite.

Yesterday he said only what any other party leader in the country would have said if his right-hand man had been arrested on suspicion of murder.

He said: "The PSNI have to be allowed to carry out their investigation, they have to be allowed to conclude their investigation. And Sinn Fein have made it very, very clear that we support them in doing that."

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So Storey is not getting the same reaction from the party as Adams did, or indeed as Padraic Wilson did when arrested in relation to alleged investigations by the IRA into the rape of Mairia Cahill or the murder of Robert McCartney. He got pickets outside the courthouse.

This is perhaps the beginning of the turn that Sinn Fein has to take.

I ended a recent article in the Belfast Telegraph by saying that "a few instances of republicans going meekly to jail without any protest from Sinn Fein would help the political climate considerably".

This is an opportunity for Sinn Fein to conduct itself as a normal political party would. If this were a senior official of the Conservative Party or Fine Gael, Storey would, at least, be suspended from his job pending legal clarity on the suspicions hanging over him.

His arrest fits well with the statement of the Chief Constable, which both implicated members of the IRA yet insisted that they were committed to the peace process.

For Bobby Storey has been an enforcer for the peace process. He is totally loyal to Gerry Adams. He recently told the republican newspaper An Phoblacht: "I very much admire Gerry Adams. He's a dynamic leader and he's been there from 1970 to the present day. He's probably the best-known Irishman in global terms. He's also very personable and affable. Gerry has been jailed, shot and has survived several assassination attempts."

When Adams got the peace process going, it was part of Storey's job to monitor discussion within the movement and check that people were on message. For instance, he leaned on the organisers of the Bobby Sands discussion group to stop airing opinions contrary to those of the leadership.

But even if Storey is not charged, the political damage will have to be faced. His arrest suggests that the intelligence points his way, and unionists will not be able to live with that.

He has already had six cases against him which failed.

Storey was released from internment in 1975, and rearrested in 1976 and charged with bombing the Skyways Hotel. He served 13 months on remand, wasn't convicted, but was arrested again and charged with a shooting. He was released again in March 1977 when the case couldn't stick. In August 1977 he was charged in relation to the shooting of two soldiers in Turf Lodge, but again the charges were dropped that December.

He told An Phoblacht: "In 1978 I was charged with shooting a British soldier and again not convicted. I was remanded that time for 13 months and released in May 1979. In December of 1979 I was arrested in London and charged with conspiring to help Brian Keenan escape from Brixton Prison and conspiracy to hijack a helicopter. Yet again they couldn't convict me and I was released in April 1981. Then, in August 1981, on the day of Michael Devine's death on hunger strike in the H-Blocks, after a soldier was shot, I was arrested with a rifle and was sentenced to 18 years."

His sentence was extended to 25 years after he took part in the 1983 escape from the Maze Prison. He was released in 1994.

Two years after that he was arrested again and charged with having information useful to terrorists, but he was acquitted.

In total, Bobby Storey served over 20 years in jail, and nearly half of that time was spent on remand on charges that failed.

But whether or not he is charged or convicted will matter little to the political process.

He was arrested at the most sensitive possible moment in negotiations and it looks as if the shock to the political system may simply not be sustainable.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph