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ira bombings

Canary Wharf: Adams was glad he 'didn't know about bombing' as he couldn't report or prevent it

Gerry Adams said he would not have been able to tell people in advance, because of his republicanism.

FORMER SINN FÉIN leader Gerry Adams said that he would have been unable to alert authorities about IRA plans to bomb Canary Wharf in 1996 “because of his republicanism”.

According to previously confidential documents released to the National Archives, Adams told Irish Government officials that he was unaware of the IRA’s plan to end its 17-month ceasefire with an attack in London.

The files themselves, released alongside other documents related to the peace process, are from the Northern Ireland division of the Department of An Taoiseach and shed further light on the road to the Good Friday Agreement.

The meeting itself took place on 16 February 1996, a week on from the Canary Wharf attack. It was attended by senior Irish Government officials including the Secretary of the Department of the Taoiseach and the Sinn Féin leadership, including Adams and vice-president Pat Doherty.

The Canary Wharf bombing, which occurred on 9 February 1996, killed two people and injured more than 100, with over £150 million worth of damage also being caused by the explosion.

The bombing occurred just days after the publication of the Mitchell Report, which detailed a process for decommissioning weapons that would take place alongside all-party negotiations.

While some talks began in late January between the SDLP, Progressive Unionist Party and Ulster Democratic Party, Sinn Féin was not permitted to be involved.

However, the Canary Wharf bombing ended all communications on a ministerial level with Sinn Féin with both the Irish and British Government.

Notes from the 16 February meeting detail that Adams would have faced “serious” moral dilemmas if he had known about the planned bombing in advance.

“Mr Adams said that he was glad that he did not know in advance about the bomb because it would have raised serious dilemmas in terms of the moral imperative to prevent or report it,” the report reads.

He added that he would have been forced to override this: he would not have been able to tell people in advance, because of his republicanism.

Adams also said that, in advance of the bombing, he believed that the IRA were likely to end the ceasefire but only if the British Government hadn’t changed its position on Sinn Féin participating in the all-party talks by the end of the month.

He said that he had expected this to be before the end of February or 1 March.

At the time, the UK Government under Prime Minister John Major, had proposed that the IRA needed to decommission their weapons before Sinn Féin would be permitted to enter into the discussions.

This stance was contrary to the Mitchell Report findings, which had been widely welcomed by the Irish Government and the UK’s Labour Party.

Bruton and Clinton

Ahead of the meeting, Taoiseach John Bruton received a phone call from US President Bill Clinton, who labelled a statement by the IRA as “gutless” for blaming the British Government for the breakdown of the ceasefire.

According to a report in the New York Times after the explosion, a Dublin radio station received a statement apparently from the IRA announcing that “the complete cessation of military operations will end at 6pm” because “selfish party political and sectional interests in the London Parliament have been placed before the rights of the people of Ireland”. 

The IRA had also said “regrettable injuries” could have been avoided if police had responded promptly to “clear and specific warnings”.

In a transcript of the call between the two leaders, Clinton said that the attack had sickened him.

Clinton: I just wanted to call and say how sorry I am about what’s happened. It sickens me.

Bruton: It’s dreadful really and completely sudden and unexpected.

Bruton added that the incident had caught the Sinn Féin leadership by surprise, with both the Taoiseach and Clinton meeting with Adams in previous days.

“It seems to us on the face of it anyway, a lot of the Sinn Féin leadership were taken by surprise by what has happened,”Bruton said, while Clinton mentioned that Adams had been in the US “a few days ago”.

Bruton told the President that Adams was “completely taken aback” by the bombing, but says that it may be an act given that he had not condemned the attack, simply saying he regretted it.

“The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, said he was saddened and appeared to accept that the IRA ceasefire had ended, saying he regretted that ‘an unprecedented opportunity for peace has foundered on the refusal of the British government and Unionist leaders to enter into dialogue and substantive negotiations’,” read The Guardian the morning after the attack.

In particular, Clinton hit out at the blaming of the British Government for the ending of the ceasefire.

Yeah I understand, you know, blaming the British for it I think under these circumstances is pretty gutless.

Bruton told Clinton that he believed progress had been made on bringing the British around on the idea of proximity peace process talks between political parties but that this had been placed on the “back burner” following the bombing.

On the same night that the Taoiseach spoke with Clinton, the Cabinet subcommittee on Northern Ireland discussed the potential for a loyalist response to the Canary Wharf attack.

The IRA ceasefire was eventually renewed in July 1997, with Sinn Féin subsequently agreeing to the “Mitchell Principals”, one of which included a commitment to non-violence as part of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations.

The Agreement itself was reached in April 1998 following months of negotiations between the Irish and British Governments, alongside parties in Northern Ireland.

However, the process of IRA decommissioning did not take place until August 2001, due to disagreement with the stance of the UK Government.

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