On the public utility of deceit and rejection of Republicanism’s millenarian ambition…

Richard English has a cracking review of the Voices from the Grave in the Irish Times last week… Just here he gets to the crux of why the posthumous blows from an old dead comrade will in eyes of many in wider society simply bounce off the public persona of Gerry Adams, despite the Sinn Fein leader’s continued public dissembling about the reality of his own past…

‘There is little doubt that, despite his denials, Adams had a significant career in the IRA during years when the Provos killed and maimed very many people. This includes his leading position in the Belfast IRA during 1971-73, and his shared responsibility for the Provos’ actions during those murderous days.

‘Nor is there much doubt, however, about his latter-day contribution towards ending the vicious violence which people like himself and Hughes had done so much to produce. Hughes himself is very clear on this point: “There’s no one else in the Republican movement with the intelligence, the shrewdness and the ruthlessness that was needed to bring the movement to the position that it’s in today. Gerry was the only person . . . who would have been capable of doing that”.

‘That latter-day process towards compromise might have involved deceit, and a rejection of millenarian republican ambition. But it surely also saved many lives, and the aspect of Adams’s career perhaps most lamented here by Hughes will be that in which many others see his most positive contribution.‘ [Emphasis added]

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  • gmacor

    Richard English has a cracking review of the Voices from the Grave.

    You are too easily pleased Mick.

  • granni trixie

    I am no fool and I too think this is a cracking review. Nice to see an academic who in the name of “objectivity” doesn’t pretend he doesn’t have a personal moral view on the impact of the physical force campaign. He pulls no punches.

  • OscarTheGrouch

    Interesting review.

    Hard to spin it into either colour – not that it will stop the usual suspects trying.

  • redhugh78

    “The book is not flawless. The historical narrative is at times very simplistic, and far more could have been done to test the claims of Ervine and Hughes against sources reflecting very different perspectives”.

    says it all really.

  • In my view it is a poor review, English will go far, for he managed to write a review about a war in Ireland, without once mentioning the destructive role of the British State, bar a few words about the Falls road curfew.

    Surly the purpose of this book if it is to mean anything, is to hear the views of two men who played important roles in the conflict, one fighting against the status quo, the other defending it. So balance should not come into it.

    Why oh why did Prof English feel the need to give Hughes a nasty little dig in the ribs when he mentioned he was the last to leave a drinks party.

    Theres nothing like kicking a man when he is dead ah Prof? Especially when it might find you favour in certain influential quarters.

  • granni trixie

    As a specialist in the history, I would expect the reviewer to know more about the complexities and therefore see the narrative as ‘simplistic’.

    However (and it pains me to defend Moloney as from his journalism I distrust him),I think that perhaps English understimates the difficulty of the task in hand. Moloney had to construct a narrative understandable for mainstream audience within which to locate the oral histories of 2 key players (combatants as some call them). Even to make sense of and translate into digestible chunks of often repetative stories must have taken considerable skill and same applies to contextualising the narrative in the events of the Troubles. (It says everything about my own interests or lack of that I am skipping over Pre 60s history int he book, but that is there for those who want it also).

    I really ask if introducing more complexities or contrasting perspectives would not have been at the expense of creating an understandable narrative – I think the trade off works.

  • andnowwhat

    I haven’t read the book yet but I plan to as soon as I can. Is it true about David Ervine’s contribution being heavily redacted?

  • Wabbits

    I finally got my copy from Amazon today.I have been waiting with much anticipation. I hope I’m not disappointed

  • West Sider

    A brilliant review by my old politics tutor. Agree with RedHugh, his point about competing viewpoints is entirely valid, as is the view, widely held by those who’ve read the book, that the same robust interview technique(see Squinter in the ATown news) did not apply to the loyalist contingent, and that really would have been news.

    Still, provides a subtle insight into the agenda of the author and his key interviewer and collaborator.

    Brian Rowan also has some interesting observations in his piece in the Bele Tele; some ex-Provos have dubbed the book ‘Touting From the Grave’.

    And given volunteer McIntyre’s volcanic fury at touting in the past, is he standing over this because it is all part of his ongoing salvo at his bete noire the Beard.

    Still, it’s refereshing to read a serious and incisive review of this paltry book which will in no way enjoy the longevity of Moloney’s great paen to Adams – A Secret History of the IRA.

    When I read that, as someone who detested the Beard – I revised my opinion entirely.

    This man would be the most deserved winner of the Nobel peace prize in history for what he accomplished.

    He even put his life on the line – faced vicious and homicidal enemies – in person – and persuaded them, persuaded them – to abandon murder – AND – offered a political way out which would give them cover and direction.

    The guy is a giant.

    He spent the last 12 years working and persuading and strategising – to bring us to where we are: a peaceful society where republicans are at the heart of government.

    In the past 12 years McIntyre et al have sat at their computers writing article after article after article on how the devil turns to Sinn Fein for advice. He says he is now anti-violence and armed struggle.

    He wasn’t saying that in the mid-90s.

    Who brought him and others to that position, who created the arena within which he was allowed to deal with his past and express that opinion: why, his nemesis Mr Adams.

    His great ‘republican intellectual’ hero Ivor Bell and O’Bradaigh would never have coutenanced that.

    One would have seriously rebuked him, the other may have shot him dead.

    His great enemy Adams forced through the the change that allowed him to express his revulsion at armed struggle.

    For those who will post afterwards and say that Anto was always anti armed struggle in the 90s and before – then maybe you’d be so kind to point to a single piece of his volumous output from that era which supports this.

    It was the Omagh bomb, by his own word, which sickened his head and heart so much to reject armed struggle.

    The biggest slaughter of Irish innocents on a single day in the entire 800 year history of Irish/British conflict through ‘occupation.’

    If the provos had not been on ceasefire, if Adams had not brought that scene change about, would he have felt free to write that, to admit to it.

    I doubt it. He owes Adams – and that’s what makes him so angry.

    My point stands: this book will not stand the trest of time whereas Moloney’s masterful description of how Adams ended the slaughter will.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’ve read most of the book, but not all. It’s subject matter is not high on my own personal list of priorities. I disagree with you though re the two books, if only in the sense that you are comparing apples and oranges, and declaring oranges to be the only fruit.

    The compelling part is the interviews, rather than the commentary, which is there as Granni has said, as a intro for those less familiar with the events. You can nearly skip to the extracts (the primary resource if you like) and take from them what you will.

    It is full of useful historic insights, but they are hardly revolutionary. Adams was in the IRA? Who knew? Adams’ own complicity in the bloody Friday and the disappearance of Jean McConville have been trailed for years. It was not the most shocking news of the century.

    What continues to fascinate though is Adams’ own persistent need to deny it all. It contrasts with McGuinness’ more straightforward, emotionally literate approach to what must be, I admit, a difficult and seemingly intractable problem.

    In essence, the McGuinness defence runs: I was in the IRA but I am bound by the rule of that organisation not to speak about that involvement. Adams, every time he is asked about it, is to lie about it and as Fintan O’Toole noted last week, to invite others to make liars of those who tell the truth.

    Giant or not giant, I cannot see that being sustainable in the long term. No one asks those questions of McGuinness any more. But, as Feeney has pointed out, Adams is in a deep whole of his own making.

    As I have said before: he should stop digging.

  • granni trixie

    WS: A great quote became the title of another book< "We wreaked the Place" - so Adams for whatever reason tries to put right that which he inflicted - a giant, try telling that to the walking wounded. Or the footsoldiers and their families who admit they were in the Ra and who suffered long term as a consequence.

  • Henry94


    As I have said before: he should stop digging.

    He’s not the one digging. The kind of people who pretend to care are not potential Sinn Fein voters. They are opponents. How long do you think the answer Martin McGuinness gave would be left at that if Adams declared that he was in fact a member?

    Do you think people are just curious or do you think they have an agenda? I think they have an agenda and by refusing to give them the answer they are looking for Adams has them stalled. The want to drive him from public life and re-write or destroy the agreement.

    They would like the entire political focus to be on Adams in the seventies. It’s in nobody’s interests except their own to let that happen.

    Is it your business, or mine, who was in the IRA? What about the FRU? Who was in that and who did they answer to? Who is in the rira or cira today? Why don’t you ask some of your contributors that question? It seems more relevant as many of them are delighted with Slugger’s agenda on this. Nice allies you’ve got there.

  • ” Who brought him and others to that position, who created the arena within which he was allowed to deal with his past and express that opinion: why, his nemesis Mr Adams.”

    I do not believe any rational person can deny this, as much as I may despair at some of the positions Gerry Adams has taken viv a vis the GFA, etc, he and he alone created the space from which many former SF Republicans now speak. Brendan Hughes admits as much in this book when he says no one but Adams had the ability to take the Provos/republican movement to where they now are.

    Where I feel Adams went wrong was not to make the space within SF for his critics to put an alternative democratic route.
    I imagine his thinking was if these people do not follow me, the only place they are going is home or shouting from the sidelines.

    The problem with this strategy is this, sure it left a good few republicans redundant, most of whom accepted the armed struggle had run its course and still had much to offer the movement. These were honest decent republicans who had lines they simply would not cross. Nevertheless their main differences where not about the ceasefire but leadership methodology, the main fault of Adams is he transferred the methodology of the army into the party. During the war they were one and the same but in peacetime this was never going to work democratically.

    The out come of this was after Adams and his creatures all but neutered this group, using democratic centralism and the smear, the field was left clear for the one more heave crew, who had nothing concrete to offer but more of the same valley of tears.

    Of course by this time Adams was surrounded by people who owed their positions in the movement entirely to him, (it should not be over looked he also owed his position to them, hence some of the unsavoury elements that now surround Adams*) thus they were never going to speak the truth in his ear. He probably believes the dissident are just criminals etc, without the ability to endure, who poses no threat to SF.

    As to Mick F comment about Adams need to stop digging and admit IRA membership, it is to late for that, were he to do so the media would crucify him and quiet possibly so would the State. unlike other radicals who were involved in liberation movements etc, Adams holds no government position to protect him from arrest.

    Only when he retires from political activities will he be in a position to do this and even then he may have to move abroad.
    Perhaps he should contribute to the Boston University archive, he could them move on by pointing to that and saying people will have to wait until I die.

    That would put the shit up some, both within SF, without and governments.

    * Hughes touches upon this in the book.

  • In case it was not clear by the following I mean the armed republican groups.

    “the field was left clear for the one more heave crew, who had nothing concrete to offer but more of the same valley of tears.”

  • Mick Fealty


    So in that scenario is anyone who questions a politician of any stripe is an ‘opponent’? In most functioning democracies scrutiny is generally conducted by people who are not of the same interest body as those being scruntinised.

    If you doubt the damage that can be wrought by ‘self regulating governments’ then cast your eyes southwards to the sodden mess that is Anglo Irish Bank. Ned O’Keefe is even now slagging off the new regulator as a ‘foreigner’: ie, someone not necessarily of the old power network who can be reliably lent upon to moderate the imposition of due diligence on corporate governance.

    Besides none of what I have argued here is about the 70s, but about what is said today. If you have to routinely lie about the past, how do we figure out when you are actually telling the truth? At the very least, your AAA rating has to be questioned.

    And those structured evasions by Adams regarding his relationship with his brother have done little to inspire wider confidence either. It should be noted too that there are serious social and legal connotations to that conversation that have zip to do with politics.

  • granni trixie

    The GFA was full of moral and other ambiguities which people could thole because it worked. But personally I always knew that sometime there would come a time for clarification.

    Some of you seem to be saying that people who vote for SF do not ‘care’ what responsibility Adams had for the violence visited on NI. Well, I believe that there are those who closed their eyes to his/SF culpibility because lack of clarity facilitated this. Now that the role he played is clearer it is more difficult for SF to appeal to soft SF voters outside the heartlands. And when the penny drops with some core supporters who compare what their families have endured whilst he has thrived, their vote could fall off too. To say that they do not “care” is insulting them.

    To say that any political leader (*think PR or anybody) should not have to answer serious questions about their past, is also ridiculous.

    And before you have a whataboutery rant, I also support a close look under the rock of state and loyalist collusion.

  • Neil

    That was me GT I think, and to be fair at the time I was specifically referring to Adams’s and his voters (in West Belfast). Most people are as confident that has was involved in the IRA as they are unconcerned at his denials. We put them in government with the knowledge that SF and the IRA were linked.

    The unspoken knowledge that comes with that includes: the IRA killed people; some people in SF were involved with the IRA; some members of SF may lie for the good of the cause (this I assume due to the fact that they killed for the same cause) etc.

    There will be families of victims (for example those of the disappeared) who will never forgive Gerry/SF/the IRA for the loss they have suffered. I empathise 100%. But for the greater part of the remainder in WB, the dogs on the street know the craic. The DUP/media asking the question, the answer to which the dogs on the street know (and have known for decades), will have little effect on the people who have been voting for him for the past 25 years. Back in ’83 he couldn’t admit membership of the IRA and he was voted in as MP for WB in spite of the general unspoken and as yet unproven knowledge that he was in the IRA.

  • Neil

    And those structured evasions by Adams regarding his relationship with his brother have done little to inspire wider confidence either.

    I thought he referred the matter to the police. Is it not their responsibility to deal with allegations of this nature (allegations that have yet to see the inside of a court room, therefore calling into question the issue of guilt).

    Have to agree with Henry tbh. This issue is another non starter despite the desperate attempts to get it going. If people were bandying about allegations regarding the Robbos without proof (or a source to blame) on this site they’d get slapped into line. When it comes to Gerry all allegations stand, like covering up a crime involving his brother when said brother hasn’t been convicted of said crime.

    The cart’s before the horse on this one. The agenda’s plain enough for all to see even if it is inconsequential, IMO as I’ve pointed out the people who vote for Adams by and large aren’t the ones getting excited.

  • granni trixie

    You seem to be implying that people in WB are getting the politicans they deserve (dishonest, making fools of people etc etc).
    I think more of them, and if not this election,even SF will see that GA is a liability.

  • Neil

    You seem to be implying that people in WB are getting the politicans they deserve (dishonest, making fools of people etc etc).

    Not really. What I’m saying is that nothing has changed since the last election. These allegations are not new. People know now what they have known for 25 years plus, why would anyone anticipate the reiteration of 25 year old allegations having any effect on Gerry’s vote? The allegations come from enemies of Gerry to do damage. But the people who vote for Gerry will have heard him deny IRA involvement many times over the years. Why would you believe that a Unionist repeating the allegations and Gerry repeating the denials to have an impact?

    The only new thing is the book, and unfortunately for those with an axe to grind, the allegations of the dead are slightly more useless than allegations from the living with no proof.

  • Mick Fealty


    You are confusing two issues there: on one hand the question of due process in one or more ‘historic cases’; and, on the other, whether Adams can be trusted as a public witness?

    As for allegations against Adams, well, what’s been put down on Slugger that should not have been allowed stand?

  • Neil

    on one hand the question of due process in one or more ‘historic cases’; and, on the other, whether Adams can be trusted as a public witness?

    If someone is on the cusp of proving Adams to be a liar, so be it. If not then there is no issue on either point. Mud has been thrown by certain journalists, there are accusations from beyond the grave but that’s not enough. Until someone proves Adams is lying then there is no issue regarding trust.

    As for allegations against Adams, well, what’s been put down on Slugger that should not have been allowed stand?

    I’m not going trawling, but I read all the Liam Adams threads where posts more or less stated Liam’s guilt and questioned Adams role in covering up his guilt, yet that case hasn’t been to court.

    What about the statements that Gerry was in the IRA and is ergo a liar? Is there someone who can back that claim up? He hasn’t been convicted and has denied it consistently, yet it’s fair game to state that it as a fact.

    It’s my opinion that on a good few threads regarding the Robbos legal action is mentioned as soon as anyone strays away from what is in the public domain. Haven’t seen too many warnings of legal action from the threads involved in trying to generate interest in Gerry’s allegations.

  • Mick Fealty


    Your first point falsifies the second.

  • West Sider


    thanks for your thoughtful response and sorry that I’m only responding now.

    I agree with you, that Adams should just come clean using a form of words that will cauterise the wound once it’s made.

    Also, I only offer my opinion on the value of both books. One is a masterful description of how Adams smoked out and out manoevered the hawks to bring the main body of militant republicanism with him.

    It is a cracking read and very valuable.

    The minutae of Brendan Hughes IRA activities is indeed fascinating – but when set against the Irvine piece – it highlights an agenda – and you get the sense the book is really about neither of them – but really is about Adams.

    I stand my comments that it won’t stand the test of time – whereas Moloney’s brilliant, if unintended, celebration of Adams’ mammoth achievement, stated explicitly by Richard English, of moving this grouping away from violence – and the sheer volume of lives it saved – not only the potential victims of the violence, but those would waste more years in jail, those who would be maimed, those whose lives would be shattered.

    He also ensured there were no more McIntyres – those who volunteered for violence, only to ruefully reflect on what they did and how they were led astray.

    Adams put a stop to the lot. And as I stated earlier, created an environment within which those, like McIntyre, could openly express those concerns and fears and regrets.

    It was a slow revolution of sorts – and it worked. And this society is all the better for it.

  • Gerry Lvs castro

    ‘There is little doubt that, despite his denials, Adams had a significant career in the IRA during years when the Provos killed and maimed very many people. This includes his leading position in the Belfast IRA during 1971-73, and his shared responsibility for the Provos’ actions during those murderous days.’

    Gerry continues his hapless efforts to be all things to all men, apparently oblivious to the fact that his gutless attempts at smearing his former comrades and laughable denials of the obvious are political poison outside of SFs ‘donkey in a tricolour’ constituencies.

    If WB voters can swallow a role in the callous and deliberate murder of a mother of ten, can stomach the random murder of innocents on Bloody Friday and continue to respect a man casting his former comrades as liars for stating what everyone knows, then it really doesn’t matter what other revelations may surface.

    If GA roasted live babies over spits to feed the hungry volunteers, sure wasn’t it all part of the ‘war’ that never was. And so what if the ‘struggle’ was no more successful than the border campaign of the 50s — sure don’t we get to have a true Republican MP, albeit one who comes up a wee bit empty on bread & butter issues.
    In short he’s preaching to the converted, but what about the bigger picture?

    The continuing problem for SF is how to break out of their ironic position of largely only attracting UK voters. There’s never been a better time to make that move across the border — economy in ruins, church on the floor, govt in tatters — the electorate should welcome the fresh new ideas of SF coupled with their refreshing Republican zeal no? But how can they with a figure like GA at the helm? Are the Irish middle class likely to be attracted to a party with a fluent liar steeped in pointless yet celebrated violence at the top? Is this one-trick pony with his zany take on economics likely to cause a SF landslide at the polls? I’m guessing no.

    Sure Gerry deserves commendation for his part in ending a particularly nasty and futile campaign, albeit one which he was up to his neck in in the first place. But his constant denials of his own involvement, his smearing of former comrades and his decidedly dodgy actions concerning rape within his own family are most certainly not the actions of an MP, a party president or even a decent friend. Outside of SF la la land, no-one is buying this stuff and if the party want to avoid decades of Stormont wrangling over non-issues and complete irrelevancy, they need a new start with a new leader and a new image.

    Most Unionists, whilst finding Adams past and present behaviour repulsive, should welcome the fact that he remains top dog, and thus a liability as regards SF expansion outside of NI.

  • Seosamh913


    Not everyone who has a problem with Adam’s plain-to-be-seen-dishonesty on this question wants the agreement destroyed.

    I am in no doubt that Adams will romp home in West Belfast – that doesn’t mean we should collude in this deceit on a not very clever ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ basis; are we really being invited to believe everything he says… apart from his membership ?