Gerry Adams has long reminded me of Claudius, from Hamlet: that man who “may smile and smile and be a villain”.
Most of us are long used to, albeit not taken in by that mantle of more-sinned-against-than-sinning sanctimony he has wrapped himself in for decades, so we were ready for his usual bizarre, convoluted response to the Smithwick report.
But nothing could have prepared us for the cold, nakedly brutal tone of his comments: “… you have that type of laissez faire disregard for their own security by both An Garda Siochana in relation to these two RUC officers and more importantly by the RUC 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 to attack by the IRA and tragically, as it turned out for them, that wasn’t the case.”
Go on, read that again and again and again. Not even the smallest hint of remorse or regret. What Adams is saying – and what he very clearly meant to say – is that Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan (and let’s never forget that they were ordinary human beings under their ranks and uniforms) were culpable in their own murder.
Let’s conveniently forget the fact that an IRA hit squad was waiting for them and that at least one member of the Garda had passed on information about their movements on March 20, 1989.
None of that matters to Adams, a man who bristles and shies away from inconvenient truths. No, all that matters to him is peddling his understanding of truth; which is that these two men were reckless when it came to their own safety.
I wonder how he would have reacted had the men been armed and then killed some of the IRA gang before driving to safety? You can bet that his version of the truth would have changed to suit that circumstance!
I think it’s fair to say that Smithwick confirmed what many of us had thought for years, namely, that the IRA had ‘friends’ and informers inside the Garda.
I’m not surprised by that and nor am I surprised that some loyalist paramilitaries had the same sort of links inside the RUC, UDR and regular Army. That tends to go with the territory in this sort of conflict, much of which was concentrated in very specific local areas.
As with so many inquiries and reports, we come back to the increasingly thorny issue of ‘truth’. What really happened; who knew what was happening; if there was collusion was it state sanctioned or was it just individuals in both the terrorist organisations and security forces; how much was/is covered up?
One thing I do know, though, is that until we do know the truth no politician or political party should be trying to claim the moral high ground in any of this: and all of them should resist the temptation to play the ‘your collusion was worse than our collusion’ game.
Having said that, how likely is it that we will ever agree on a mechanism for uncovering the truth? Adams’s response to Smithwick, like the response of many unionists to Ann Cadwallader’s recent book on collusion, suggests that truth is what we want it to be: no more and no less.
Political parties tend not to like ‘inconvenient’ truths, while the rest of us don’t really want any more ‘uncomfortable’ truths about what was done by our own side.
Indeed, the whole issue of ‘truth’ here is so complicated that we would probably need a second truth commission to verify the findings of the first one – if we ever did agree to have one!