“and ‘Soon’ would have known this”

Perhaps the most interesting [and least covered? – Ed] response to the release of UK National Archive files from 1981 was that of the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, TD.  An edited version of his blog post appeared at the Guardian.

The interesting part is not his declaration of “Another myth busted”.  That particular “war of words”, as Brian Rowan says, “will go on”.

The interest is in Adams’ calling into question “the relationship between London and ‘Soon’” – Londonderry businessman Brendan Duddy – and in the process, calling into question Duddy’s reliability as a witness.

The Sinn Féin president lists a number of remarks – attributed in the released documents to Brendan Duddy as ‘Soon’ – which he claims are “not true”.  And, in one instance, Adams adds that “‘Soon’ would have known this”.

A particular sore point appears to be the descriptions of “a great deal of confusion [] in Provisional circles”, of “the Provisionals disorganised position”, and of “an angry and hostile meeting of the Provisionals almost verging on a complete breakdown”.

As John Bew and Deaglán de Breadún reported in the Irish Times

The papers, in the British national archives, create a picture of confusion in the Provisional IRA leadership at a critical stage of the prison fast, with “every type of neurosis imaginable surfacing”, just when a compromise seemed imminent. [added emphasis]

The documents confirm Mrs Thatcher approved a message to the IRA leadership, after four of the 10 hunger-strike deaths had occurred, which laid out the concessions the British were prepared to make. Contrary to British expectations, the Provisionals rejected this offer, although the latter suggested the objection was to the “tone” not substance.

The problem for Adams’ newly expressed scepticism of the ‘back-channel’ is that Brendan Duddy has been “The Contact” between the Provisional IRA leadership and MI6 since the early 1970s.  And as recently as 2009 Martin McGuinness was describing Duddy as “an honourable man”.

Another point to note, as he acknowledges in his post, is that Gerry Adams had a central role in “who said what”

I chaired the Sinn Féin committee responsible for handling the prison struggle, contacts with the prisoners, with the British and anyone else.

And as Ed Moloney recalls

By the time of the 1981 hunger strikes I was well travelled along an increasingly jaundiced learning curve about the Provos and their West Belfast leadership and had learned a number of things, mostly the hard way: they had a very slick propaganda department with Danny Morrison at the core of it; you would be foolish to automatically believe everything he or his minions said; more often than not, they lied like troopers and they could be very vindictive if you crossed them.