Apology puts Adams on defensive
An ill-advised apology by Gerry Adams for the death of Garda Jerry McCabe in County Limerick 17 years ago has created a storm of controversy and left the Sinn Féin leader battling with condemnation from political rivals and demands to apologise for other actions during the conflict.
The surprise statement came during a debate in the Dublin parliament in the wake of a death a member of the 26-County police, Garda Adrian Donohoe. Donohue was shot dead on Friday, January 25 after he interrupted a criminal gang engaged in a hold up of a credit union near Jenkinstown, County Louth.
Since the foundation of the state, the 26 County Garda police have been seen by successive governments as the real guardians of the state and of the government itself.
The death of Adrian Donohoe provoked a typically strong reaction by conservative and right-wing elements. It was described as an ‘attack on the state’ by 26-County Justice Minister Alan Shatter, and there were renewed calls for a mandatory 40-year sentence or capital punishment for anyone found responsible for the death of a Garda.
On Tuesday, Mr Adams surprised commentators by linking the incident to the death of Garda Jerry McCabe, who died in an IRA action in 1996.
Garda McCabe was unintentionally shot by members of the Provisional IRA during an abortive ‘fundraising’ raid on a post office in Adare, County Limerick 17 years ago. A colleague, Garda Ben O’Sullivan, was also injured.
The tragic incident produced the strongest condemnation by the 26-County government of the IRA in the conflict. It ultimately led the Ahern government to break the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to insist that those found guilty of McCabe’s manslaughter, the ‘Castlereagh Four’, remain behind bars, despite qualifying for release.
Adams’s statement in the Dublin parliament confused many by failing to specify which organisation he was apologising for, leaving the suggestion open (possibly deliberately) that it was a personal apology.
“I want to apologise to Mrs (Anne) McCabe and the McCabe family, and to Garda Ben O’Sullivan and to the families of other members of the state forces who were killed by republicans in the course of the conflict,” he said.
“I am very sorry for the pain and loss inflicted on those families. No words of mine can remove that hurt. Dreadful events cannot be undone. But I want to restate that the resolve of Sinn Féin and of the majority of Irish people is to ensure that there is never, ever a recurrence of conflict.”
The statement provoked his critics - Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the retrospective apology was “ironic” - while unionists angrily demanded Mr Adams also apologise for IRA actions against state forces north of the border.
UUP justice spokesman Tom Elliott said Mr Adams was creating a “hierarchy of victims”, with Garda McCabe at the top.
“It was not that long ago that Sinn Féin was justifying all murders but now that seems to be changing,” he said.
“I find it astounding that they can say that the situation was vastly different in the Republic of Ireland to that in Northern Ireland. How can they say that? Murder is murder. They are trying to create a hierarchy of victims.”
Independent republicans also criticised Mr Adams’s statement for implicitly equating his organisation with Irish republicanism -- the day after he stayed away from the funeral of an IRA legend.
Sinn Féin officials later told journalists that Mr Adams was speaking on behalf of the (Provisional) Republican Movement, but did not explain why he had raised the 1996 incident.
The ham-fisted apology has increased the pressure on Mr Adams to step down as leader as his party faces into its annual conference, when his re-election will be put to a vote by delegates.
In a follow-up statement, Mr Adams said his party had repeatedly called on the Dublin and London governments to invite in a reputable and independent international body to establish an Independent International Truth Commission.
“For my part I would actively encourage republicans to co-operate with such a process,” he said.