Gerry Adams’s relationship to the Provisional IRA — whether or not he was ever a member — is one of the longest running controversies in modern Irish politics.
It has also become something of a source of humour to many people.
Mr Adams, who has just retired as President of Sinn Fein after over thirty four years in office, has always denied belonging to the terrorist organisation, which is, after all, still illegal.
His lieutenant, the late Martin McGuinness, could not deny being a Provisional. at least up until 1973; in that year he admitted membership of the IRA in court.
Thereafter, at least in his own mind, Martin McGuinness became a community activist. Other leading republicans have not disguised their membership because of convictions for terrorist offences and periods of imprisonment.
It is not hard to see why Mr Adams’s protestations have been met with scepticism. His family has had a long history of connections with republicanism.
His father, Gerry Adams senior, was imprisoned after shooting an RUC officer. As long ago as 1972 the younger Gerry was part of a delegation which met Willie Whitelaw for talks in London.
The authoritative biography of Adams by David Sharrock and Mark Devenport,traced his rise through IRA ranks on the basis of information supplied by security sources.
Gerry Adams has long been an IRA apologist.
In 1981, following the IRA’s murder of two former unionist politicians, the eighty-six years old Sir Norman Stronge and his son James, Adams said the only complaints he had heard from republicans were that the killings had not occurred earlier. Several years later he called the Brighton bomb — which murdered five members of the Conservative Party, including a sitting MP — a blow for democracy.
After Thomas Begley, a young Provisional, blew himself up with a bomb which also murdered nine Protestants in 1993, Gerry Adams helped to carry his coffin.
Only last year the then Sinn Fein President said it would not be “productive” for anyone to be jailed for the IRA’s murder of Tom Oliver in 1991.
Gerry Adams’s connections to the organisation have always seemed close.
In recent weeks — though this seems to have gone unnoticed — it has become much harder for Gerry Adams to continue his denials. It has long been believed that Mr Adams was the author of a column published in Republican News in the mid to late 1970s under the pseudonym “Brownie”.
Sharrock and Devenport gave several pages of their biography to these columns which were written while Adams was an internee — not a convicted prisoner — in the Maze; they ceased to appear once he was released early in 1977.
In May of the previous year “Brownie” wrote: “Rightly or wrongly, I’m an IRA volunteer and rightly or wrongly, I take a course of action as a means of bringing about a situation in which I believe the people of my country will prosper”.
Enter Danny Morrison, the individual who was once the Sinn Fein publicity director who coined the phrase about republicanism’s use of the ballot box and the armalite together. Mr Morrison is no longer an active republican but he remains in good standing in the movement; he is not a dissident and he remains undisgraced in republican eyes.
In The Irish Times on February 9 Danny Morrison wrote in a gushing tribute to Gerry Adams.
He wrote: “I have known Gerry Adams 46 years. In 1975, as editor of Republican News, I asked him would he write a weekly column from Long Kesh, which he did under the pen man Brownie.”
Mr Morrison has to my knowledge never before said that “Brownie” is Gerry Adams.
Republicans can dismiss police or army claims about Mr Adams and the IRA: they can do the same with claims from dissidents such as Anthony McIntyre and the late Brendan Hughes. But bad-mouthing Danny Morrison is going to be less easy.
This matters. Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill are not ex-Provisionals and only the latter has family links to the IRA; but both are happy to appear at commemorations for republican terrorists.
The connections between the IRA and Sinn Fein have not gone away.
As long as those links persist Sinn Fein will be the Upas tree of Irish politics poisoning all around.