Update: Gerry Adams’ first reaction, as reported in The Irish Times:
‘I am aware of the reports of this morning’s judgment and that Tom Murphy has been released on bail ... He has strongly contested the accusations. I have no comment to make until the legal process has been concluded.’
Which, given that sentencing will not happen until some time in February, this may mean no need for a public position on ‘Slab’ by Gerry Adams until the general election is over.
Ain’t the legal system just great!?
A first thought, or rather question, following today’s conviction of Tom ‘Slab’ Murphy on nine counts of tax evasion at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin.
‘Slab’ was the IRA’s Chief of Staff from 1997 until … well probably now, given that we now have official confirmation that the Army Council still exists and continues to run the IRA.
He took over at a delicate stage in the peace process – the Adams leadership had just survived, by the skin of its teeth, a vigorous challenge from Michael McKevitt at a General Army Convention – and ‘Slab’ was chosen to replace Tyrone veteran Kevin McKenna, who had held the post since 1983.
He was selected to steady the ship and he did that with considerable aplomb.
‘Slab’ was the man in charge during the most politically tumultuous years of the peace process which saw a split in the IRA, the Good Friday Agreement and the embrace of hitherto despised heresies: partition, the Stormont parliament, the power-sharing government, the principle of consent, the gradual decommissioning of IRA weapons and, finally, the PSNI.
It is very possible that without a man in charge of the IRA who not only had led the organisation in South Armagh, the byword for fierce Republican resistance to the British, but who had himself a lengthy and impressive personal military track record, the Adams’ leadership might not have survived. Who could accuse Adams of a sellout when the leadership in South Armagh supported him?
The debt of the Adams’ leadership to ‘Slab’ in relation to the peace process actually predates this period; ‘Slab’s’ decision to abstain in the crucial Army Council vote on whether to call the first ceasefire of the peace process in 1994 was, along with Joe Cahill’s last-minute decision to switch sides and support the move, enough to give Adams a comfortable victory and the political space to move forward.
And that is before one considers the many times ‘Slab’ rescued the IRA from financial holes by lending the organisation money likely earned by methods which the anti-terrorist Special Criminal Court has now deemed criminal.
Or, the crucial part he played in the Libyan arms venture whose effect was twofold: it seemed to give a lie to the claim that the peace process was a sellout, and provided the SF leadership with valuable bargaining chips when the peace process talks began.
So all in all, the debt of the Adams leadership to ‘Slab’ Murphy is a considerable one.
The question now is whether that leadership will stand by ‘Slab’, as he stood by them, as he faces a jail term of a length yet to be determined but which for a 66-year-old man must be a disheartening prospect no matter it’s duration?
Or, with a general election pending in the South, will the Sinn Fein leadership succumb to the temptation to drop him and distance themselves from a figure whose embarrassing criminality is an unwelcome reminder to the voters of their own past?
After all, not for nothing was this Sinn Fein’s unofficial slogan: ‘Eaten bread is soon forgotten’.