Gerry Adams was ‘at most No 3’ on IRA army council, said priest

Sinn Féin leader ‘goes through the motions’ of being a Catholic, Irish official told

Gerry Adams was "at most No 3" on the IRA army council, his parish priest told an Irish official.

Newly declassified files also reveal the Sinn Féin leader was working on a plan in 1987 for a future Labour government to declare an intention for Britain to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

The strategy, with a time-scale of 25 to 50 years, would be sold to the IRA army council, which was by then said to be “war-weary”.

The files, from the Department of the Taoiseach, have been released into the National Archives under the 30-year rule.


They show a former parish priest in Adams’ Ballymurphy neighbourhood in Belfast confided his “insights” into the IRA to Belfast-based Irish official David Donoghue, who was gathering intelligence to send back to Dublin.

Adams was “at most No 3 on the Army Council” at the time “but his influence on it is declining”, Fr Peter Forde said, adding Martin McGuinness was “No 2”.

Although McGuinness appeared “to be merely a sidekick of Adams”, he was “in many ways more powerful”.

The priest said he didn’t know who was “No 1”.

Fr Forde went on to describe a “serious split” in the IRA army council over Sinn Féin ending its abstentionism policy in Ireland, which was worsened by the party’s poor performance in Dáil elections. McGuinness intervened and “swung the matter in Adams favour” but there remained “a lot of discontent ever since”.

Fr Forde said Mr Adams still “goes through the motions” of being a Catholic. But rather than going to his local Ballymurphy church, he went to Mass at Clonard Monastery.

The “Southern Redemptorists there tend to be more wide-eyed about the Provos” than most Northern priests and “less likely, therefore, to ask him searching questions”.

PJ McGrory, a well-known Belfast solicitor whose son Barra became Adams’ lawyer and later the North’s director of public prosecutions, also met with Donoghue.

British withdrawal

He said Adams had spoken to him a number of times about a plan for a future Labour government to declare a British withdrawal with a time-scale of “maybe 25, 40 or even 50 years”.

Adams told him it was legitimate for Sinn Féin to support “armed struggle” but he “personally felt entitled to decide that the armed struggle was undesirable at a given point in time”.

“McGrory read this remark in two ways,” according to the files.

“First, Adams disapproves of individual IRA atrocities (though, as he told McGrory subsequently, he will never say so in public – ‘the Army Council gives me only so much leeway…’); and secondly, he favours the political struggle at the present time.”

McGrory said Adams was a “a politician more than a gunman”.

“[Adams] believes (or hopes) that the ‘movement’ will become more and more political as time goes by,” he said.

“Despite his professed subservience to the Army Council, the essential reality is ‘whatever Adams says, the Provos will eventually do’.”

McGrory said the IRA was “war weary” by 1987 and that Adams feared Catholic west Belfast would be “annihilated” in the event of “a major conflagration in which loyalists on the rampage” would be backed by their own paramilitaries and elements in the security forces.

Then Bishop Cahal Daly, later head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, told Donoghue he too heard Adams was working on proposals to halt the IRA campaign.

“While recognising his intelligence and political abilities, Bishop Daly spoke with some vehemence of Adams’ deviousness and fundamental untrustworthiness,” the note added.