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So, Gerry Adams says he will quit SF if harassment is proven. Bully for him

The republican party's transition from a war footing means that 'volunteers' can still reveal abuse... for now


Gerry Adams denies he was ever a member of the IRA, but persists in protecting its reputation

Gerry Adams denies he was ever a member of the IRA, but persists in protecting its reputation

Gerry Adams denies he was ever a member of the IRA, but persists in protecting its reputation

Sinn Fein was for decades an adjunct of the IRA. This was illustrated clearly on several occasions. In 1985, when Gerry Adams urged the ard fheis to vote in favour of the party fighting elections in the Republic, he told delegates that they had little choice, for the IRA had already met and made its own decision to support the move. And they didn't want to be disloyal, did they?

There had long been two separate structures, but they were working hand-in-hand. Fifteen years earlier, when the IRA split to produce the Provisionals and the Officials, two meetings were held, one of the IRA and one of Sinn Fein; one to make the actual decision, one to engage in the charade of democratically endorsing it.

The intertwining of the two has been embodied in recent decades in the person of Adams who, while denying he was ever a member of the IRA, persists in protecting its reputation, even at the expense of appearing to understand democracy and justice while holding office as the president of Sinn Fein.

A recent example of that was his argument that the killers of Louth farmer Tom Oliver should not now be pursued.

Another was his statement in the Dail that the men who attacked and killed Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan, driving back from a meeting in Dundalk Garda station, had been "IRA volunteers who were doing their duty as they saw it".

For years Sinn Fein offices, like Connolly House on the Andersonstown Road, were reception centres for complaints that might be followed up by the IRA. If you had information on local hoods you suspected of car theft, you could report it to Sinn Fein and an IRA team would go out and shoot them in the legs.

What has never been made explicit is when, if ever, this symbiotic relationship between the two organisations came to an end.

There can be little doubt that the centre of gravity of the republican movement has shifted to the party and that the IRA is much less busy than it was.

But during the recent investigation into the killing of Kevin McGuigan in the Markets area of Belfast the question was raised again.

McGuigan had been shot dead in a sophisticated paramilitary attack by republicans who believed that he had been personally responsible for the murder of 'Jock' Davison, a Provo who had led the killing of drug dealers and had been implicated in the murder of Robert McCartney outside Magenniss's bar in January 2005.

A statement by police that members of the Provisional IRA had been involved triggered that year's political crisis. The previous crisis had been over the 'on-the-run' letters, the one since has been over the RHI scandal. It can be onerous keeping track of these things.

A security report commissioned to inform the parties of the status of the Provisional IRA during the talks process said that the IRA still existed, but that it was committed to political action. It also said, however, that many in the IRA believed that they controlled Sinn Fein.

Bobby Storey (codename 'Brain Surgeon'), a former IRA heavyweight, was arrested, then released, and then sought to assure us all that the IRA was a butterfly that had gone away.

Oglach Martin McGuinness (as his headstone calls him), then also the Deputy First Minister, said that Sinn Fein took orders from no one. And on the basis of Volunteer McGuinness's assurances, the protesting DUP ministers went back to work.

Last week Adams, whose status in the IRA is yet to be clarified by a headstone, said that he would leave Sinn Fein if he believed that party members had been bullied.

This followed yet another wave of resignations by disgruntled members, who were fed up being dictated to.

Adams used a curious phrase to defend the party against the charge of bullying. He said that the party worked to "volunteer ethic".

That means, read one way, that Sinn Fein relies on eager, self-sacrificing people who give their time willingly. Read another way, it reminds members of the IRA roots of the party, for in republican language a volunteer is a soldier.

One would have thought that, if Adams had wished to dissociate the party from the IRA, he would have chosen a different word, for the one he did choose acts as a reminder of it.

There are certainly a lot of those volunteers who don't like taking orders and who accuse the party of stripping them of initiative. We saw this with the resignation of Daithi McKay after he had chaired a committee meeting in which loyalist Jamie Bryson had been tutored in how to embarrass then First Minister Peter Robinson over the Nama scandal, the scandal before the last one.

Eighteen party members in north Antrim resigned in protest at what they saw as the scapegoating of McKay and the "anointing" of Philip McGuigan as his successor.

For a party that wants to be recognised as democratic, Sinn Fein does a lot of anointing.

A routine complaint in many areas is that local officials have been overruled in their candidate selections. Indeed, we now have a northern leader, Michelle O'Neill, who was not elected, but appointed by the ard chomhairle.

It is hard to imagine any other party putting up with that and seeing other talented members denied even the opportunity to contest for office. This is how armies do things, not parties.

And we now hear that disgruntled former members have been meeting to create a hub for disaffection, claiming that management processes in the party are dictatorial and intimidating.

The harshest example of that to break into the public domain was the prolonged interrogation of Mairia Cahill by the IRA when she was working with Sinn Fein in Belfast and had been raped by an IRA man.

Previously, she had been spotted by the party as someone who might advance to high office, and witnessed the elision of democratic processes herself. She was notified by Storey and Gerry Kelly that she had been elected national secretary of Ogra Sinn Fein (its youth wing) at a meeting she had not even attended.

Sinn Fein was inevitably going to have difficulty evolving into a party of volunteers - people who act of their own free will - out of a party of soldiers under orders. It is now at an uncomfortable stage where abused members can speak out.

It remains to be seen whether this is symptomatic of a transition to democratic functioning, or just a lapse in discipline that will be dealt with.

Belfast Telegraph