Northern Ireland

Book claims 'flustered' Gerry Adams vetoed Martin McGuinness's plan to support blanket amnesty

Former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.
Former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.

Gerry Adams vetoed plans by former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness to voice support for a blanket amnesty for Troubles-related offences, a new book about Sinn Féin claims.

The Long Game by Aoife Moore recalls an event in 2013 at Belfast's Europa Hotel in which the late Mr McGuinness planned to deliver a speech that would signal the end of calls for the prosecution of British soldiers and paramilitaries for crimes carried out during the 25-year conflict.

The 'City of Equals on an Island of Equals' event was also addressed by the then chief constable Matt Baggot and attended by former Methodist moderator Reverend Harold Good and Alan McBride, whose wife was killed in the 1993 Shankill bomb.

A crowd of around 20 loyalists picketed the event.

According to the book, Mr McGuinness was asked by a speech writer if he should include a line which said "[no-one] should go to prison for any conflict-related offences".

The Sinn Féin chief negotiator responded: "Well, that is my position. Write the speech."

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The book recounts how days ahead of the event, Mr Adams, then a TD for Louth, "travelled north in a fluster".

The Long Game by Aoife Moore is published by Penguin
The Long Game by Aoife Moore is published by Penguin

It says the then Sinn Féin president told a meeting of high-ranking party members "in no uncertain terms that McGuinness could not call for an amnesty".

"It is not our position," Mr Adams is reported to have said.

"Now we will get crucified for this. We'll get crucified by victims' groups."

The contentious paragraph was duly removed, the book states.

While Sinn Féin's current policy is to publicly oppose an end to prosecution for Troubles-related offences, the party under Mr Adams' leadership supported Labour government legislation in 2005 that would have granted an amnesty to paramilitaries and security force personnel.

Sinn Féin withdrew its support for the bill following criticism from the SDLP, which highlighted how exemptions to prosecution would also cover members of the security forces who colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in murders during the Troubles.

After the proposed legislation was withdrawn, Tony Blair's government agreed a secret deal with Sinn Féin that saw the issuing of 187 so-called on the run letters, assuring suspected IRA members that they would be immune from prosecution.

In 2014, the then secretary of state Theresa Villiers revealed that 365 royal pardons had been issued between 1979 and 2002.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

It emerged that among those pardoned was Sinn Féin policing spokesman Gerry Kelly, who confirmed he received the Royal Prerogative of Mercy after he was recaptured in the Netherlands in 1986.

An SDLP spokesperson told The Irish News: "The SDLP called it out when Gerry Adams and the British government were actively negotiating an amnesty so it’s really no surprise that other senior figures in Sinn Féin were making the same arguments. 

"The SDLP has a long history of opposing the narrow interests of paramilitary gangs and state actors – for us, the needs of victims will always be paramount."

A spokesperson for Mr Adams said the book included "totally inaccurate and indeed offensive claims" and that they would not be commenting on them.

"For the record Sinn Féin has consistently opposed an amnesty," the spokesperson said.

"We rejected it in 2006 when Peter Hain brought forward legislation, again at St Andrews and again during the Haass Talks in 2013, and again throughout the latest attempt by the British government to introduce such a measure in their latest legacy bill.

"This is all a matter of public record.”

  •  The Long Game by Aoife Moore is published by Penguin.