Patrick Radden Keefe ‘Say Nothing’

One Summer day in 2013, two detectives strode into the Burns Library. They were not Boston detectives. In fact, they had just flown into the country from Belfast, they were working for the serious Crime Branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland….The detectives had come to collect a series of secret files….The recordings were now officially evidence in a criminal proceedings. The detectives were investigating a murder.

So, in the summer I was offered this book by my daughter and her beau. Was Gerry Adams a member of the provisional IRA as he denies, this is the question at the heart of this thick, well researched book which sets out the geography of “The Troubles”, the book does a minimum on the origins, treated either way in great detail elsewhere. There are two starting points for this work, one historical, the “disappearance” of Jean McConville, a mother of ten from her home in the Divis flats, a public housing complex in West Belfast, and a second more recent event, as described in the opening quotes of the recordings of key actors in the Provisional IRA made after the peace agreements.

Secondly, the recordings: there was as in any terrorist organisation an Omertà in place, no one would talk about anything, but the Burn’s library in Boston was able to persuade the ageing, once active terrorists that their testimony would be safe and would be useful for historical research, a shaky assertion that was proved wrong. But the people that spoke on tape were bitter about the way things had turned out and weren’t motivated only by historical reasons.

Firstly the “dissapearance” of Jean McConville: there were very few “disappearances” during the troubles, the Provisionals preferring leaving the corpses in view for intimidation. McConville, a widowed mother of ten, living in the Divis flats, was suspected of being an informer. On What and to whom?
One of the things that the recordings made clear is that the Provisionals were themselves, as an organisation, riddled with informers.

The two key testimonies came firstly from Dolours Price, who was the leader of the group that bombed the Old Bailey based on her own analysis and insistance as the first woman to join the Provisionals:

It was a case study in strategic insanity:the Irish were blowing up their own people in a misguided attempt to hurt the English, and the English hardly even noticed. It bothered Price. ‘This is half their war’ she would say to Wee Pat McClure, the head of the Unknowns, as they sat around call houses between operations. ‘Only half of it is our war. The other half is their war, and some of it should be fought on their territory’. She became convinced that a short sharp shock – an incursion into the heart of the Empire – would be more effective than twenty car bombs in any part of the North of Ireland’.

And secondly from Brendan Hughes, the officer commanding D company of the Provisionals, whose direct commander was Adams and who had been in Long Kesh together, Adams and Hughes were close as when he turned up in a flat afterHughes had been shot:

That Adams had come personally meant a great deal to Hughes, because it was risky for him to do so. According to the Special Branch of the RUC, Adams had been commander of the Ballymurphy unit of the Provisionals, and later became the officer commanding of the Belfast brigade – the top IRA man in the city. He was a marked man, more wanted by the authorities than even Hughes.

For anyone who recognises the current trend for implausible denial, ‘ if I don’t admit to it…..’ Putin’s habitual defence for instance, Adams’ defence to accusations of his implication in the Provisionals will come as no surprise:

Gerry Adams, meanwhile, angrily contested Price’s claim, noting that she was a ‘long-standing opponent of Sinn Féin and the peace process’. Price was suffering from ‘trauma’, Adams pointed out, adding, ‘there obviously are issues she has to find closure on for herself.’ It was the same criticism Adams had levelled at Hughes, who he characterised as having ‘his issues and difficulties’.

Lives up to the hype.

First published in English by William Collins in 2018


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