Friday, June 5, 2020

the last book I ever read (Patrick Radden Keefe's Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, excerpt eighteen)

from Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe:

In the early years of the Troubles, Bell and Adams were allies. They worked intimately together on the Belfast Brigade and did time together at Long Kesh. It was Bell who’d insisted that the 1972 peace talks could happen only if Adams was released from prison, and it was Bell who’d made the trip to London with him. Bell was a great proponent of physical force and had served as the IRA’s “ambassador” to Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya, procuring huge shipments of heavy weaponry from the pariah state. By the mid-1980s, he had risen to become chief of staff of the IRA. But after Sinn Féin embraced an electoral approach during the hunger strike of Bobby Sands and started running other candidates for office, Bell grew concerned that resources and attention were being diverted from the armed struggle in order to campaign for seats. Too much ballot box, not enough Armalite. Eventually, Bell and some allies grew so dubious of this strategy that they plotted to overthrow Gerry Adams. But word of this defection reached Adams, and he moved swiftly, court-martialing Bell for treachery—a charge that could lead to a death sentence. Bell was found guilty, but when it came to the penalty, Adams stepped in—out of loyalty to his old friend, perhaps, or out of consideration for the optics of such a move—and spared his life. So Bell retreated from the movement, with a possible death sentence still hanging over his head, and lived a quiet life in West Belfast. He had refused, ever since, to speak to journalists about his experiences in the IRA. When Big Bobby Storey made the rounds during the 1990s, asking former Provos what they knew about the Jean McConville case, Bell was unhelpful. “Go and ask Gerry,” he said, offering Story the same line that Dolours Price had. “He’s the man.”

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