We might never know the truth about the suggestion that Gerry Adams was responsible, directly or indirectly, for setting up the Provisional IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade for ambush as they tried to blow up a police station in Loughgall in May 1987. Sinn Féin have dismissed the claims as “utter nonsense”, and some of the usual suspects have busied themselves playing the man – and/or the media.
Meanwhile, Ed Moloney provides some useful background, and reproduces the chapter in his book ‘A Secret History’ devoted to the IRA in Tyrone after Loughgall. As he notes
Fr. Faul had his reasons to suspect that Gerry Adams’ hand lay behind the ambush, but there were other, equally credible explanations, including mistakes made by the IRA team as well as routine British surveillance or the activities of informers unconnected to the republican leadership.
But in East Tyrone republican circles, the suspicion that the removal of the Loughgall unit was not a chance event and was somehow connected to subsequent political developments, has persisted.
What we also know, from the findings of the Smithwick Tribunal into the 1989 murder of RUC officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan, is that “the evidence [to the Tribunal] keeps pointing back to the desire of the IRA to acquire information as to how the British Security Services had gotten advance warning of the IRA ambush on Loughgall Police Station in May 1987”.
Which makes the discrepancies between the Provisional IRA’s “approved” version of events in 1989 and the actual evidence intriguing, to say the least. As I noted at the time
There is one particular point which is worth considering. The PIRA’s “Final Approved Note” states (p402)
“The instructions to the ASU were to intercept the car, and arrest the occupants, but if that was not possible then they were to ensure that neither occupant escaped.”
That was confirmed during the face-to-face meeting with former PIRA members and the Tribunal’s legal team, along with two intermediaries (p411).
“22.4.15 The former personnel confirmed that the intention of the operation was to “take away and question the occupants” of the car.”
And here is where it may get interesting (p411 cont).
“When asked why that changed, the former personnel requested a short break in the meeting; when the meeting resumed, they explained that the car had reversed and the two RUC officers had tried to escape. [added emphasis]
“22.4.16 It was stated that Harry Breen was shot in the car and had not got out of the car with a handkerchief as had been suggested elsewhere: “Buchanan reversed the car and both men died instantly in gunfire.” If Harry Breen’s body was out of the car, this was because he had removed by the Active Service Unit in order to search his body.”
As Smithwick later adds (p422)
“22.7.5 Thirdly, there was a clear contradiction between the answers given by the former personnel in the course of the face to face interview on the one hand, and the evidence before me of the autopsy performed on Harry Breen on the other, in relation to how Harry Breen was shot. The autopsy conclusion, which notes that the fatal shot was fired in the back of Harry Breen’s head, is simply inconsistent with the former members’ account that he was shot while still sitting in the car. Their version also does not account for the presence of a white handkerchief on the road near his body. I have to say that I think I must accept and prefer the un–contradicted autopsy evidence in this respect.”
And the independent eye-witness account (p73).
“when they [the people in the red car] came in and they obviously realised they were in a trap, they went to reverse, they tried to reverse the car, and there is a wall of moss on it just there, and they must have realised they couldn’t, they wouldn’t make it, and the passenger, he got out and he came around the front of the car and he put his hands up and they shot him and he fell to the ground.
“And then the other man, I think – the driver – I’m not sure whether he opened the door to get out, or whether they went down and opened the door, but they shot him behind the wheel, to my knowledge. He was – I think he was just maybe getting out of the car.”
Back to Smithwick (p422)
“22.7.6 This undermines to some extent the credibility of the version of events provided by the former personnel of the Provisional IRA. As noted by Detective Chief Superintendent Kirwan, “it requires explanation.” However, I am cognisant of the fact that there may be some political sensitivity in their admitting to this Tribunal that Harry Breen was shot when he had, as one eyewitness described it, gotten out of the car with his arms raised, or that he was subsequently shot at close range in the back of the head. [added emphasis]”
Perhaps… Evidently no information was acquired by the Provisional IRA “as to how the British Security Services had gotten advance warning of the IRA ambush on Loughgall Police Station…”
But, given the allegations around that particular incident in Loughgall in May 1987, and the full findings of the Smithwick Tribunal, it may be that another part of Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams’ recent controversial comments on
Newsweek Newstalk is the more significant. From the BBC report
“When you have that type of laissez-faire disregard for their own security, by both An Garda Síochána in relation to these two officers, and more importantly these officers themselves – here they were in the heart of south Armagh in the middle of a very, very severe conflict at that time, and seemed to think that they were immune from attack by the IRA, and, tragically, as it turned out for them that was not the case.
“When you have that type of failure to protect the RUC operatives in the middle of a war then what happened happens.
“I’m sure the same thing has happened with IRA volunteers who were killed, that it was not necessarily intelligence or inside information but simply that they made a mistake. This has happened tragically in all conflicts.” [added emphasis]
[Move along, now, nothing to see here… – Ed]
One final point from Kevin Doyle in the Irish Independent
For years, Adams has publicly backed the idea of an independent international truth commission – but there are reasons to be sceptical.
Another document released this week suggests that Adams was working on a peace strategy in early 1987, which on the surface sounds positive.
However, when you read it, it appears his motives were not black and white. Rather than seeing the error of his ways, he was driven by the realisation that terrorism was hampering his own personal political ambitions.
Bishop Cahal Daly briefed diplomats on the situation, speaking with “some vehemence of Adams’s deviousness and fundamental untrust-worthiness”.
The truth remains that Adams will only reveal his past if it suits his own agenda.