DID anyone think for even one moment that Gerry Adams would be charged? Wasn’t it really just a case of when and not if he was going to be released? And, of course, because it was the North the rumours and counter rumours flew.
There was no doubt that it looked bad, looked very bad indeed, for Irish democracy. On the eve of an important election, with his party flying in the polls, an opposition leader is arrested over allegations of involvement in something dating back to 1972.
It sounds like something that would happen in Zimbabwe or some other state where democracy is very flawed, to say the least. That it should happen here, well, it looks very, very bad.
Of course, the suspicion arises that it was certain elements of the British security forces wanting to ‘get’ Adams, followed by the suspicion that certain elements of the Irish establishment would be very keen on ‘getting’ Adams too. Whatever, it must look very bad to an international audience. There is, though, another angle.
Okay, just before an election Gerry Adams, the popular leader of one of the main opposition parties, Sinn Féin, is arrested. Yes, that all looks very bad, very sinister and very damaging to democratic credibility. But hang on a minute, just one moment.
The fact is that, just a few weeks before an important election the popular leader, Gerry Adams, of one of the main opposition parties, Sinn Féin, handed himself in at the police station.
This wasn’t a dawn raid with cameras in tow or a night-time snatch with no one looking. Gerry Adams chose this time to walk in to the police station and answer questions about something he knew the police had wanted to talk to him about for a long time.
So in this light the arrest of Gerry Adams can seem like a smart move for Sinn Féin, the party that delivered peace in the North being victimised by authorities North and South, being punished for their popularity, for their audacity in taking the democratic fight to the Republic’s stablished parties.
Now, which of these theories has any relationship to the truth I have no idea. I have to admit that I have sympathy with Sinn Féin and think Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty are two of the finest and most able TDs in the Dáil.
But I have my doubts about Sinn Féin too and find ticking the number one box next to their candidate always halted by the childhood memory of listening to the big, brown radiogram with my mother as the news came through of the IRA blowing up two Birmingham pubs.
Many years later I was able to ask a Sinn Féin activist in the Conway Mill in Belfast about the justification behind that and was told ‘let’s not swap atrocities’. Personally, I can’t really think of any atrocities carried out by the working-class Birmingham Irish but I understood what she was saying, however dis-satisfactory I might have found it.
What she was saying, as far as I can understand, was that the ‘dirty war’ in the North was going to be followed by a ‘dirty peace’. And that is what we have seen. When the guns were laid down peace triumphed but justice did not.
Justice, in effect, was put to one side. I’m not saying that as an admonishment. I’m not saying that peace wasn’t worth it. But I am saying that is the reality of how the Troubles no longer exist.
So in the ‘dirty peace’ that we all live in someone like me will write competing theories about the arrest of Gerry Adams, about who was behind it, about who it suits best, about who will gain most from it.
And only towards the end of my writing about it, in this ‘dirty peace’ that exists now on the island of Ireland, will I remember to point out that the other person central to this story was a widowed mother of 10 children who was taken from her home in west Belfast by the IRA and shot or killed or murdered.
Her body was not recovered until it was dug up from a beach in Louth in 2003. In the ‘dirty peace’ we must all now accept, that is how we respond to the continuing story of Jean McConville, whose name now appears in this piece for the first time even though the whole story is about her.
But that in Ireland, now that the guns are thankfully gone, is what our peace means.