I only want to keep my hand in

Owen Bennett-Jones

  • Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life by Malachi O’Doherty
    Faber, 356 pp, £14.99, September, ISBN 978 0 571 31595 6

Historians of Northern Ireland have plenty of material to work with. A book called Lost Lives (2001) records the lives and deaths of each of the 3720 people who were killed during the Troubles. Fighters, activists, officials and politicians on all sides have spoken to the media and written books themselves. Public inquiries have published hundreds of pages of hitherto secret evidence. Journalists, some of whom managed to get impressively close to the leaders of paramilitary groups, have chronicled what happened. One aspect of the conflict all these sources reveal is the extent of the British state’s confusion about how to deal with Gerry Adams. Police repeatedly raided Adams’s childhood home. When he was 23 the courts interned him for five years, beginning with a spell on a prison ship. A few months later he was released so that the RAF could fly him to London for talks at a house in Cheyne Walk with Willie Whitelaw, the then home secretary. In 1988 Mrs Thatcher banned his voice from being broadcast but a decade later Tony Blair negotiated with him as a key participant in the peace process. Today he has easy access to the top British leadership. But Adams has not been entirely rehabilitated. In 2013 the police questioned him about his failure to disclose his brother’s sex abuse and the next year they held him for four days in connection with the 1972 murder of a Belfast mother of ten, Jean McConville.[*]

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[*] Susan McKay wrote about McConville’s murder in the LRB of 19 December 2013.