Even the dogs in the street knew the peace process was over

As his new autobiography is published, Gerry Adams talks to Liz Thomson about the IRA and why talks collapsed

Liz Thomson
Friday 20 September 1996 23:02

Gerry Adams has admitted that he was not shocked by the IRA bombing of London's Docklands which killed two people.

"I think anyone who tells the truth of the situation knew that the peace process was going to break down."

In an interview to coincide with the publication of his autobiography, the Sinn Fein president said that following the Docklands bombing, he felt like "a spectator in a situation in which you are also a main player".

He said he knew the ceasefire was over after the report of the Mitchell Commission. "The Mitchell body came in. Sinn Fein welcomed the report. John Major threw it out. John Hume says when he heard that he knew it was over

"The dogs in the street were saying it was over. I knew it was over. Everyone knew it was over."

Mr Adams insists he had no control over the decision to bomb Docklands and Manchester. "Yes I do know people in the IRA." But does he control the IRA? "No. The media representation of this actually leads to a total misunderstanding of the situation. You're dealing here with historical and contemporary political experience. It is not within the gift of one person to control any of the forces involved."

From as early as 1972 Mr Adams said his preference was for a political solution and by 1980 he was telling people there could be no military solution. "I said it was a political problem and I argued for the building of Sinn Fein within its own right and as a political alternative to the Establishment."

The talks with John Hume and the SDLP began in the mid-Eighties. "He and I first had a number of meetings ourselves and when those ended we continued exchanging views. They became public by accident in Easter `93 and we were then moved by the various developments of that time to make a series of public pronouncements. The nub of that was a run of broad principles which we felt could be a foundation. "I think if John Hume and I did nothing else we proved to people that there was another way out of this situation." He has asked the Rev Ian Paisley for talks; there has been no reply.

By the time of the Docklands bombing the peace process was in tatters. "There weren't any talks. Nonsense was made of the whole issue of decommissioning, but what was fuelling the issue on the ground was the refusal to move on the question of prisoners. One Irish prisoner, Paddy Kelly, became terminally ill while in prison in Britain while Lee Clegg, a British paratrooper, was released.

"Then an Orange parade was forced down the Lower Ormeau Road and people were badly beaten by the RUC. I think the big breaking point in the popular imagination was around the time of the visit by President Clinton. In November, it was a year and however many months and the Presidential visit saved the situation. There was a joint communique from the two governments. That was all long-fingered until February."

But could not he have asked the IRA for extra time? "No," replies Mr Adams, again citing "media misinformation". Then what is the point of negotiating with Sinn Fein if it cannot control the IRA? "Because we have an electoral mandate."

He added the IRA had been persuaded to call for "a complete cessation of armed actions ... to bring about a settlement. When that did not come about they could justifiably say: `We did our best, we've kept it for a year and a half'."

What does Mr Adams think the IRA hoped to gain by blowing up innocent civilians in Manchester? "Well, I don't see any point to it either and I have long since moved away from seeking even to explain the tactical or other inflections of IRA operations."

Why does he carry the coffins of IRA bombers? "That shows a misunderstanding of the situation again. That person was a neighbour, a member of the community. I would feel a political need to express solidarity with his family, with the rest of the people in the area who are demonised because of his action."

Mr Adams does not subscribe to the idea that Mr Major is a prisoner to the Ulster Unionists. "But he's a Unionist in the sense of not wanting to be the British prime minister who would preside over the break up of the United Kingdom. I think there is a sense among the English Establishment of the union of the United Kingdom and this place being the thread which, if they pull it out, everything starts to unravel ... I think the short answer is that John Major does what John Major does because he doesn't want to see the union ended.

"But I don't think we can wait until he goes; I think we have to keep working with whatever British prime minister and taoiseach happens to be in power. It may be the reality that you won't get any movement until you've a government there that has a different complexion, but you can't sit and wait. You have to keep pushing."

In a taxi en route to the airport, the driver asks me about my day. A Catholic, "though I don't go to mass", he recalls being sent out to give soup and sandwiches to the soldiers. He had been suspicious of Mr Adams, initially writing him off as another De Valera. Now, he was not so sure and felt him to be serious in his search for peace. "He's caught between a rock and a hard place. I hope he succeeds, because if he doesn't, we'll have another 25 years far worse than the last."

5 Before the Dawn: an autobiography; Gerry Adams; Heinemann in association with Brandon; pounds 17.99.

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