a measure of the incomprehension

In the Irish Times, Vincent Browne gives his reaction to Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams’ speech at the weekend Ard Fheis, and argues that it “seemed bizarre, , unless this was intended as reassurance [to the internal republican audience]”. But the article is also interesting for the way it compares with Vincent Browne’s previously stated views.. although, it should be said, those views remain firmly in favour of a benign interpretation of events.Of the Ard Fheis speech, Vincent Browne has this observation –

The speech was aimed not at the wider national audience, whatever that was at 5pm on a Saturday. It was directed at an internal republican audience, which seems bizarre. So much of the speech was a reassurance to the republican heartland that he at least was keeping the republican faith. There was the invocation of the 1981 hunger strikers, the commemoration of 1916, references to the “courage” of the IRA and praise for the IRA “cessation” now over 10 years ago. Yes, this is the 25th anniversary of the hunger strike and the 90th anniversary of the Rising, but to have devoted so much of the speech to these anniversaries seemed bizarre, unless this was intended as reassurance.

Let’s look at what he has to say today about Adams and McGuinness, in relation to the Northern Bank robbery –

It has been obvious there have been such internal tensions for well over a year. The Northern Bank robbery was almost certainly conducted without the prior knowledge of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and, incidentally, the Irish Government knows this but has not acknowledged it. In the early months of 2005, there were signs that Gerry Adams had lost control of the movement.

Vincent described such a scenario before, in February last year, as part of his benign scenario, but then it was described in these terms

If they [Adams and McGuinness] did not [know about the bank robbery], the situation may be even more perilous. It would mean that they are no longer in control of the movement, that others are in charge and running things to a very different agenda.

Of course, one reason why he now embraces the losing control argument, is that subsequent statements can be interpreted as Adams regaining control.. which he wastes no time in describing

He regained it in April when he made his speech asking the IRA to stand down. The response took far longer than he or Martin McGuinness anticipated, which suggests some internal opposition. And the form of the “standing down” seems not to have been exactly along the lines favoured by Adams. But he won that day.

Except, Vincent Browne also has his opinion on record, on July 27 2005, of what that standing down would actually amount to – “a ball of smoke”

The IRA is not going to disband. The IRA is not going to end what is called criminal activity, not for now anyway. The IRA may decommission most of its weapons but it will retain some, writes Vincent Browne.

Senior members of Sinn Féin will continue to be involved in the IRA. More than likely there will be some internal rearrangements which will perpetuate the IRA in some other guise, allowing deniability and cover.

The argument he put forward then was that it didn’t matter, that policing was the only issue of concern.. and that a decision on that by Sinn Féin could wait. As I said at the time, I remain unconvinced by the argument he presented.

Back to Adams’ speech, and Vincent provides some missing details from Adams’ memories of 1981 –

For genuine personal reasons, as well as politics, it is understandable Gerry Adams had to recall the hunger strikers. But for many Irish people 1981 will be remembered for other reasons as well. A total of 117 died in the conflict that year and republicans murdered 64 of them, including: Norman Stronge, a retired unionist MP, along with his son, James Stronge (48), killed “as symbols of hated unionism” by the IRA; five British soldiers murdered at Camlough on May 19th, right in the middle of the hunger striker deaths – they (John King, Paul Bulman, Andrew Gavin, Michael Bagslaw and Grenville Winstone) are never remembered; several off-duty UDR and RUC members, many of them murdered in appalling circumstances; and the Rev Robert Bradford, a Westminster MP murdered on November 14th, 1981.

So in that same year of the hunger-striker deaths, the IRA murdered two representatives of the community with whom they now want to share power. And they wonder why the current representatives of that community are reluctant to do so, when they do not and have never uttered regret or an apology for those deaths.

And he ends, apparently, somewhat puzzled by the choice of rhetoric by the SF president, although that preference for the benign interpretation isn’t far beneath the surface words –

The unionist community deeply distrusts Sinn Féin and with understandable reason: Sinn Féin, they believe (reasonably), was the instrument of a war of terror and murder inflicted against their community for a quarter of a century. Of course, other factors play a part in current unionist obduracy. But unionist distrust is deepened all the more by the likes of Gerry Adams celebrating the memory of the foot-soldiers of that war of murder and terror and the ideological inspiration for that war (the 1916 Rising), while uttering not a word of compassion, regret or sympathy for the terrible hurt inflicted on the unionist community.

Gerry Adams may have to use rhetoric now that soothes republican anxieties and in the long term maybe he is right to do that. But for him to be surprised that unionist obduracy is hardened as a consequence is a measure of the incomprehension there is on both sides of the sensitivities of the other.


  • fair_deal

    I though this was the most interesting/intriguing piece of Adams’s speech on Staurday.

    “The third great challenge facing this party is to build support for Irish unity in Britain.
    There is a potential to create in Britain a solidarity movement similar to that in the USA.”

    The engagement with Unionism was the usual rhetoric. The speech below shows how little impact engagement has had on republican thinking.

  • alfredo

    vincent browne is the only journalist in ireland, sorry europe, who believes that adams did not know about the northern bank raid – if browne had done any reporting on the story he would have found out the identity of the person who organised the raid and put together the intelligence behind it – if browne had done this he would know that this person does nothing, and would never contemplate doing anything, without the approval of adams much less a huge raid that would be bound to destabilise not just the peace process but the ira itself – if browne is right then the robbery was an act of defiance against the adams strategy which involved a large percentage of the ira being mobilised to carry it out – this would mean that there was a deeply-based discontent against adams and his stategy – yet what happens next? the ira ends its campaign and decommissions all its weapons within months – some rebellion this was! and if there was a rebellion like this where are the severed heads of the rebels? nowhere to be seen because there was no rebellion. there are only two reasons to explain browne’s fantasy: he is in his dotage and believes everything adams tells him or, more likely, browne is just being his usual cussed self; if everyone else say black browne can be sure to be the only one saying white!

  • Kathy_C

    Hi all,

    Gerry Adams is not the leader he was during 97-2003,,,.maybe someone should ask him what he did to change his winning approach because the man isn’t doing well politically. And under his current leadership SF is floundering.

    Maybe he and SF should become engaged once more to those who put them on the winning track.

  • harpo


    ‘Gerry Adams is not the leader he was during 97-2003’

    Sure he is. The only thing that is happening is that the chickens have come home to roost. Adams and PSF built their strategy on the basis that everyone else would buy the smoke and mirrors of that period, and wouldn’t actually demand PIRA decommissioning and a full committment to democracy when it came down to it. But Adams got it wrong. The democrats did demand these things. For once they stood up to the Provisionals.

    ‘maybe someone should ask him what he did to change his winning approach because the man isn’t doing well politically.’

    What winning approach? What did they actually win? And at what cost?

    The approach was one based on PSF selling the lie to those that they attracted that they had some magic formula under which they could have it both ways – power and an illegal armed wing in the background. That lie was helped in that period by the fact that decommissioning was to happen sometime in the future, as was the full committment to democracy. PSF could make vague noises about the future that really didn’t amount even to promises, and the governments and the UUP bought it for a while. But then the UUP and then everyone else got tired of waiting for delivery by the Provisionals. Amd stood up to the Provisionals. That’s where we are at now.

    ‘And under his current leadership SF is floundering.’

    Is it? By what criteria? It is the largest nationalist party in NI, although they did attract a lot of that support based on the activities of the period that you mentioned. Many nationalists were attracted by the appearance that PSF was delivering something. But that’s irrelevant – they got more votes than the SDLP in recent elections.

    If by floundering you mean ‘they have stopped getting things for nationalists and are now having to pay the price’ then what you say may be true. They have boxed themselves into a corner and have nowhere to go, apart from become totally democratic. That isn’t sexy, is it? Then they would just be a regular political party.

    I’d say they are floundering because they are now up against the wall that was always there. They have to become a normal political party for things to move on. They don’t get to have it both ways.

    Their armed wing has decommissioned but is under pressure to wrap up all illegal activity. And there will be no more political progress until that happens. Long story short, there is nothing more that can be gained to please their supporters, but certain costs will have to be paid. Like wrapping up all PIRA activity, and accepting the police.

    Their dilemna now is that their only option is to carry out these required moves. But even if they do all they gain is getting into government as a normal political party, administering NI within the UK. There is no magic delivery of a united Ireland and no short cut to it.

    Thus they just become another democratic political party, though one that will still preach revolution. If that’s enough to keep swing nationalist voters on board fair enouugh, but it may not be. Maybe some will go back to the SDLP once they see that PSF really didn’t have any magic formula after all.

  • Mickhall

    vincent browne is the only journalist in ireland, sorry europe, who believes that adams did not know about the northern bank raid – if browne had done any reporting on the story he would have found out the identity of the person who organised the raid and put together the intelligence behind it – if browne had done this he would know that this person does nothing, and would never contemplate doing anything, without the approval of adams
    posted by alfredo,

    This part of alfredo’s post is interesting, as it misinterprets who the individual he mentions is loyal to. True he has a long history of being absolutely loyal to the PIRA senior chain of command, however this is something completely different to what alfredo is claiming, which is that the individual is personally loyal and answerably to Mr Adams. If Mr Adams is a member of the PIRA AC then the individual in question would without a doubt give him his total loyalty. However alfredo has no idea whether or not Mr Adams still sits on this body, indeed the general opinion is he no longer does. Thus this negates [imo] all of what alfredo says vis vis Mr Adams and the northern Bank robbery.
    This is not mere semantics on my part, for unless one ignores rumor and personal prejudice and try’s to understand how things actually work in practice, not only will we fail to reach the correct conclusion unless we have a great deal of good luck, we also leave ourself open to being manipulated by those who have a vested interested in feeding us shit. Whether they be members of the PRM or the British State.

  • alfredo

    re mick hall
    the individual’s loyalty, as anyone who knows him, is to adams both personally and in his capacity as the de facto leader of the provos, whether or not he actually sits on its army council at this moment in time or exercises power through a surrogate – either way he calls the tune and everyone knows that – incidentally at the time of the robbery adams was on the ac so mick hall’s point falls anyway

  • Mickhall


    Knowing and believing are two different things, the god botherers believe in the almighty, although in reality they have no more idea as to the truth of his/her/its existence than a poor specimen of a non believer such as myself. This does not matter to them as they have faith. Surly a decent journalist should work with facts when stating that this or that is true. Simply to believe something is so, even if you are confident in your beliefs is not good enough, nor should any free thinker countenance such methodology.

    You may well believe what you post about this man, but for us to take your word, you must tell us how you know and why you believe this info to be the truth. Unless you can do this then you are simply stating you opinion based on nothing more than your personal beliefs and the same goes to whether Mr Adams was a member of the AC during the period leading up to the Northern Bank Robbery.

    Myself I have no idea whether he was, or was not, although I can see the arguments which could be put forward for either claim. However unless they were accompanied by hard facts, I prefer to leave my options open. So simply because you say my point falls does not make it so, although I have no doubt you believe it has fallen. We will just have to agree to differ.

  • alfredo

    your problem mick, i suspect, is that you just can’t let go of the comfort blanket.

  • Kathy C

    Hi all,

    Harpo, It is true that Sf is the largest republican party….however, since the last election there have been several things happen that make the sustainable growth of SF under the current leadership of adams/mcguiness/maskey/kelly questionable.

    One issue is the parades especially now that there are orange order members on the parades commission. SF has been able to keep a lid on the republican community during the parades…what happens now when the orange order marches where they want to.

    Also, an other issue is the rise of Ian paisly and his agenda and how SF isn’t up to standing toe to toe with ian…..
    The last election was the last election…there are alot of new factors to consider…and I think it will be interesting to watch it alllll unfold.

  • DK


    One of the first things these new members did was to ban the drumcree march. Still, it’s easier to call them orange b****ds than to actually engage with them isn’t it?

  • Mickhall


    I take your point about the comfort blanket but it is just not that, it is about something of far greater importance than me wishing to be snug, warm and cosseted by what you regard as my political allusions. The downside of this could well be the nationalist working classes finding themselves once again with no political representation worth having. Which is of course what this process has been all about. i.e. defanging or destroying the PRM as a radical political force.

    I would be more than interested to hear what you have to say on or off list.

    Best regards


  • lib2016

    The old question rears it’s head yet again – do we get the leadership we deserve or not? Frankly I don’t believe in the sort of elitist interpretation that seems to be emerging here. When the old Nationalist Party didn’t do the business it was pushed aside, as was the SDLP when the time came. We all saw how far the illusions of the spindoctors got them when they produced the ‘Save Dave’ campaign on the other side of the house.

    The people will choose and we should do better if we trusted their choice a bit more.