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Unresolved: Prince Charles and Gerry Adams shake hands at the National University of Ireland on May 19. They later met in private (photo: Brian Lawless/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Seventeen years after the Good Friday Agreement, which resolved the Northern Ireland Troubles in 1998, the place seems as fixated as ever on what happened during that 30-year conflict. You might think the focus would be on the organisation that was by far the single greatest life-taker, the Provisional IRA. Instead, it has been trained firmly on the actions of the British security forces. On the eve of Prince Charles’s recent “reconciliation” mission to Ireland, the President of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, spoke of the “good work” already done between his former IRA comrade Martin McGuinness and “the English Queen” before somewhat gracelessly adding: “There remain unresolved injustices. These must be rectified.”

The next day Adams bounced into Charles’s private space as he sipped a cup of tea. Photographs captured this counterfeit moment of mutual respect as the heir to the throne and the diehard republican exchanged what the BBC described as a “firm and lingering” handshake. Charles smiled the dutiful smile of a Royal, betraying none of the contempt I imagine he feels for the man said by the Special Brance to have been the IRA’s Adjutant General in 1979 when they blew his “infinitely special” 79-year-old great-uncle Lord Mountbatten to pieces, along with an 83-year-old woman and two teenage boys.

There do indeed remain many unresolved injustices in Northern Ireland. But having lost the bloody and irregular war, Adams — who helped to start it — has been determined to focus attention on just one set of injustices: killings by the security forces. There were 1,785 fewer of those than there were killings by republicans. Undaunted, Adams has sought to establish a moral equivalence between the British state and the IRA, who killed vastly more innocents trying to drive the British out of Northern Ireland against the wishes of the majority in Northern Ireland.

Hence the self-righteousness with which McGuinness described the post-handshake private meeting he and Adams had with Charles: “We didn’t ask anybody in that room to apologise for anything.”

It is remarkable how Adams especially and Sinn Féin have managed to rewrite history considering that the IRA, in effect, surrendered, having reconciled themselves to the fact that their organisation had been so successfully penetrated by army police and MI5 agents it was holed like a Swiss cheese. Yet Adams and Sinn Féin have managed to turn the tables by portraying the security forces as terrorists while sanitising what the real terrorists actually did.

They have done this by relentlessly drawing attention to security force collusion with loyalist murder gangs against the IRA — a narrative that now occupies much of the work of some NGOs and lawyers.

No state can fight terrorism without some compromise over peacetime legal and moral standards. The problem for the British state is that Adams does have a bone to gnaw on. For many years now one stone after another in the undercover “dirty war” has been lifted — mostly by journalists (myself included) and NGOs — and what we have found underneath is not pretty. Recently declassified papers discovered by researchers from the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry show there did indeed exist an unhealthy alliance between the state and loyalists in the early years of the conflict. The bloodiest year was 1972, when almost 500 died; there was a bombing or a shooting every 40 minutes. At up to 50,000 strong, the largest loyalist paramilitary organisation was the Ulster Defence Association. By the summer of 1972, with their masks, dark glasses and khaki fatigues, the UDA were strutting around Belfast, some members brandishing offensive weapons. Their message to the army was: “You deal with the IRA or we will.”

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Charlie 7
August 29th, 2015
10:08 AM
Reading Cecil King's diaries of 1970-1974, gives the impression that the chaos in the Western World and the advance of Communism meant that many feared for democracy. Britain expelled 105 USSR diplomats dues to espionage in 1970. M Bentine the comedian and ex MI9 officer called a meeting in 1968 and predicted the rise of political terrorism and was ignored by most British authorities apart from the SAS. The KGB supported terrorism and there was more cooperation between PIRA, ETA, Palestinian Groups, Red Brigade, Action Direct and other political groups than governments. Countries such as E Germany, Algeria and Libya provided support and it was not until R Mason in N Ireland and then more comprehensively under Thatcher and Regan was political terrorism dealt with. Many western governments ignored Palestinian terrorism and arab support for them. S Ireland provided training areas for the PIRA and support from some members of the government. I doubt that it was not until the early 1980s did Britain have the skill and will to effectively deal with Republican terrorism. It was the Iranian Embassy siege which showed Britain had the skill and will to deal with terrorism. When dealing with political events perhaps we should remember General Sir Alan Brook's comments on N Africa in 1940s" Half the divisional and corp commanders are not good enough but there are none better to replace them".

Billy Corr
June 26th, 2015
9:06 AM
It would have been possible even for the likes of Johnny English to have tracked down each member of the I.R.A. Army Council and killed them all(preferably on the same day.) This was not done because the military elite rather enjoyed keeping the Ulster war - the 'low-intensity conflict' - running.

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