Playing poker with Adams and the peace – Brian Rowan on the week that was

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Falls Road arrest Protest

Falls Road arrest Protest


You just have to read a couple of lines in Declan Kearney’s regular blog for the Belfast Telegraph to realise we’re not out of the political woods just yet.

On the Adams arrest, he writes: “What happened was done with British Cabinet approval… Key players within the Conservative Government and State agencies are playing poker with the peace process.”

The Sinn Fein Chair repeats the charge of a ‘dark side’ and, when you join the dots of this and other republican commentary, this is what they believe.

That if Secretary of State Theresa Villiers knew about the Adams arrest, then David Cameron knew and they also have the ‘spooks’ at play with the police other players in the drama of the past week.

Others will dispute and reject that assessment, but it’s what republicans at a senior level believe – that here is another Conservative Government, years after the Major Government, messing with the peace process and playing on one side.


Part of the audience waiting for Gerry Adams in west Belfast on Monday


Read Adams’ account of his interrogation in Antrim Serious Crime Suite written for the Andersonstown News, and you’re left wondering what the past few days were all about?

Did the police really want to arrest him in a car park outside the police base?

Was that really necessary?

Was part of the evidence against him that he was turned by the Special Branch during interrogations in Palace Barracks in 1972 and that he became an MI5 agent?

Was it really ‘evidence’ based on books, newspaper articles, photographs and the tapes – named and anonymous – from the Boston College collection?

That project has crumbled before our eyes in recent times.

And, since Sunday and Adams release, the police have been in a corner and Sinn Fein has a new spring in its election step.

That doesn’t mean that the Adams arrest has gone away or has been forgotten.

We are reminded of that in the Kearney Blog.

What republicans are trying to work out is what it was about and who it was about in terms of the orders and purpose of the past few days.

Why did the interviews focus so much on that period of the 1970s?


Adams arrives at the Balmoral Hotel on Sunday


If Adams was in the IRA then, was he not that same senior figure in the decades that followed?

And if he was not just in the IRA but an MI5 Agent, how are the Libyan arms shipments explained without detection – the bomb that came close to killing Margaret Thatcher, the mortars in Downing Street, the not knowing the precise terms of the ceasefire the IRA announced in 1994?

Why did different British Governments get the assessments of decommissioning and what was possible and when so wrong?

There is something very sniffy and peculiar about what is emerging.

That said, Adams’s denial of IRA membership is considered one of the big untruths of the conflict years.

But without a process on the past – involving all and the many sides – that line, or lie as some would describe it, may never be corrected.

There is “open source” material that would justify the arrest of some other senior figures in the conflict period.

Why have they not been arrested – and books and newspaper cuttings read to them?

This is what I’ve been asked this week, but there are more questions than answers.

This much, however, is certain.

Republicans don’t trust this particular British Government and, in that absence of trust, how do you get business done?

Important business such as constructing a process on the past.

The British government is not a facilitator. Nor is the Irish Government.

This needs international design and those governments at the table with everyone else.

If the past week was in some way about proving that Adams is not untouchable, then it backfired.

All of the governments know it was he and Martin McGuinness who delivered the IRA into the peace process.



Whatever title or rank you attach to them they are the two most senior republican leaders of the past 40 years – spanning the period of ‘war’ and ‘peace’.

Yes, of course, they have questions to answer about all of that – but so have many others across security, intelligence, loyalism, politics, churches, media and in other fields.

We can either deal with the past or we can play in it.

Republicans believe the past week was about the latter.

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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at


  1. Barry Fennell on

    Brian, you are absolutely right in terms of your piece on the past – we cannot ‘play in it’ simple as that. But it isn’t merely that simple it’s a myriad of contradictions, emotive, raw, extremely divisive and littered with smoke and mirrors. An honest approach, mechanism and process on dealing with the past is required otherwise we cannot move forward. Both governments have to be part of this process but not controllers of it. They have to be honest and active participants to seeking alternatives rather than protecting interests and narratives. An independent approach I feel should be explored and welcomed. At the moment victims, families, loved ones, support groups and others seek a range of answers, inquiries, rulings however there is no consistent, fair or independent process to which they can turn or which effectively provides a suitable form of justice or closure. Families and victims who may get to the point of some form of closure and perhaps close to understanding of what took place don’t seem to get treated the same or afforded the opportunities to pursue campaigns or cases. Rather than shared experiences of grief and meaningful all-party support quite often they are unfortunately used as political and tribal footballs – pawns in a game being publicly pitted against one another which is wrong. I think of the McCartneys, Travers and more recently the McConvilles all of whom, without appearing insensitive, who have been used. We should not be using the dead and atrocities to fight old battles. The past was about conflict, wrongdoing and hurt the future should be about unity, peace and being able to deal with our past honestly.

    • barneyrowan on

      Barry, You’re absolutely right, we should not be using the dead and atrocities to fight old battles, but some are. The conflict years are still being used as a play thing – a winners and losers type game. That helps no one and leaves us stuck in the past. Nor can a process on the past be written to a party-political or government script line. Just listen to the response of some to the proposals from the Victims Commissioner. This needs international design and it should to be about victims and not votes. Barney

  2. Apparently Gerry Adams was interrogated about his past, unbelievably back when he was 18 months old!

    Can you imagine the posters with his picture at that age?

    Have you seen this baby?
    Do not approach
    He may be armed and dangerous

    How stupid can the execution of our police state sink?

  3. Food for thought about the “on the runs” during discussion in the House of Commons (8.5.14). It would be interesting to establish the source of the information used by Ms Hoey?

  4. The problem, as I see it, is that the phrase “deal with the past” has not been properly defined. It means different things to different people. To some it meants truth, reconcilliation and moving on. To thers it’s about old greivances, demands for apologies, the justification of past acts, and endless what-about-ery. The shooting war has been replaced by a cultural war where neither side is really ready to live with – let alone talk to – the other.

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