‘Republicanism is part of our DNA’, says IRA bomber Dolours Price
For former IRA bomber Dolours Price, who has accused Gerry Adams of betraying the cause of a united Ireland, republicanism runs in the blood.
By Patrick Sawer, in London, and Bob Graham, in Dublin
Sunday Telegraph (London)
23 Sep 2012
Today she looks like any other 61-year-old, the type you might pass in the street without noticing, should you be walking through the quiet Dublin suburb where she lives.
But the story which Dolours Price has come forward to tell has the potential to derail the process which has brought peace to Northern Ireland for the past 15 years.
She claims Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein who helped bring about the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement, has not always been a man of peace.
In fact Price, herself a convicted IRA bomber, accuses him not only of having approved the bombing of targets on mainland Britain – including the Old Bailey – but of personally ordering the abduction of several people the IRA considered to be traitors. Adams categorically denies her claims.
It is an extraordinary charge sheet, which has a deep personal motive behind it: she feels that Adams has “betrayed” the Republican cause by being involved in the peace process, and that he has betrayed her and other IRA members by denying he was one of their number.
It would be easy, therefore, to say that these are the words of an embittered woman, out for revenge – and indeed, that may be true.
But these are claims which she says are contained in recordings which the Police Service of Northern Ireland has gone to extraordinary lengths to obtain, invoking a legal “mutual aid” agreement with the American government to obtain the testimony she – and other former terrorists – gave to researchers working for Boston College in the United States.
The college made the recordings with an offer that their contents would be kept secret until the death of the 28 former terrorists from the IRA and its Loyalist equivalent, the Ulster Volunteer Force to whom they spoke.
The belief was that the offer would guarantee candour – but it also piqued the interest of the police, when a book based on the recordings of two dead terrorists was published by Ed Moloney, the documentary maker who led the research.
It disclosed that Brendan Hughes, who had been an IRA commander, spoke of the “disappeared”, the group of people killed by the IRA and buried in secret graves. He said that Jean McConville, the most high-profile of the victims, was killed by a squad called the “unknowns” and added: “Gerry had control over this particular squad.”
The allegation prompted the lengthy legal action.
However, Price has agreed to be interviewed about her knowledge of the “disappeared” and The Sunday Telegraph today publishes what she said.
Price and her younger sister, Marian, now 59, followed a family tradition of Republicanism.
“It is not enough to say we were born to be Republicans, it’s more precise to say Republicanism is part of our DNA,” she said.
“My father used to sit us on his knee and tell us stories about how he’d gone off to war in 1939 at the age of 19 to bomb the English.”
It was the reintroduction of internment in 1971, when hundreds of Republican activists, along with many who had no involvement with the IRA, were arrested and imprisoned without trial, which led Dolours and her younger sister to join the organisation.
She approached Seán MacStiofáin, one of the founders of the Provisional IRA and said she wanted to be a “fighting soldier”, not part of Cumann na mBan, the women’s wing of the republican movement. An IRA Army Council was convened and Price was sworn into the organisation, followed by her sister.
Marian Price later boasted how she also used the fact she was wearing a miniskirt to talk her way through a British Army checkpoint after being stopped in a car packed full of explosives.
Speaking of the period, Dolours said: “It was an exciting time, there was no real order or structure to everyday life, the war had taken away all normal routine . . . I should be ashamed to admit there was fun in it in those days.”
In 1972 the Price sisters rose to prominence in the single bloodiest year of the Troubles.
In 1972 alone, 249 civilians were killed as a result of the conflict, among them the 13 victims of Bloody Sunday, along with 148 British security personnel, 70 Republican paramilitaries, 11 Loyalist paramilitaries and one Irish security forces member.
Price was adamant that the IRA should target mainland Britain and in particular London.
She claims the plan to bomb London was hers and was explicitly approved by Adams, in what she claims was his role as “Officer Commanding” of the organisation’s Belfast brigade.
She said: “I was convinced that a short, sharp shock, an incursion into the heart of the Empire would be more effective than 20 car bombs in any part of the north of Ireland.”
Her plan was presented to Gerry Adams and, she said, discussed and agreed by IRA commanders, before Adams convened a meeting to find volunteers.
She went on: “Adams started talking and said it was a big, dangerous operation. He said ‘This could be a hanging job’. He said ‘ If anyone doesn’t want to go they should up and leave now through the back door at ten minute intervals.’ The ones that were left were the ones that went. I was left organising it, to be the OC of the whole shebang.”
First there was a botched attempt to firebomb Oxford Street, but then came the serious attack, four car bombs targeting symbols of the British state:Old Bailey, New Scotland Yard, an Army recruiting office in Westminster, and Whitehall.
The 300lb bomb outside the Old Bailey went off at 3pm on March 8, 1973, as police evacuated the area. One man, Frederick Milton, 60, died of a heart attack and more than 200 were injured. In Whitehall, 33 were injured; the other two were found and defused.
Price and the rest of the terror gang were arrested before the bombs went off, as they tried to board flights and ferries back to Ireland, as police were already hunting them.
A police officer later recalled how, at 3pm, Marian Price looked at her watch and smiled.
Price remains unapologetic about the use of violence, stating in her memoir: “There were warnings phoned in but people had stood about curious to see, some had even stood at office windows and been sprayed by broken glass when the car went up.
“In Belfast we gave 15 minute warnings, in London we’d given them an hour.”
At their trial at Winchester Castle in November 1973, the Price sisters, along with Gerry Kelly – who went on to serve as a Sinn Fein minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly – were jailed for life.
The Prices, Kelly and fellow conspirator Hugh Feeney immediately began a 203-day hunger strike, demanding to be transferred to prisons in Northern Ireland.
Price says: “Make no mistake about it, when I made the decision we’d be on hunger-strike, I had a vision we’d starve to death, it was that simple.”
They were eventually moved to Northern Ireland, as part of an agreement struck with the IRA during its truce of February 1975 to January 1976.
In 1980 Price was granted the royal prerogative of mercy and the following year was freed on humanitarian grounds, suffering from anorexia nervosa. She had served eight years of the “minimum” 20 years of her life sentence.
However, she remained committed to her cause and during the late 1990s spoke out against the Good Friday Agreement.
Until now Price, who claims to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of being force fed, and has attempted suicide on a number of occasions, has said little publicly about her role in the IRA. Between 2001 and 2006 she agreed to be interviewed for the college’s oral history Belfast Project.
In 2010, she offered to help the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains to find the graves of three men abducted and killed by the IRA, Joe Lynskey, Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee – although she has not offered to co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Dolours’s sister Marian is currently in prison hospital in Northern Ireland after falling ill while on remand for charges relating to aiding the dissident Real IRA’s campaign of violence.
Adams denies Price’s claims. He said: “I reject again, as I have consistently rejected, the allegations contained in The Sunday Telegraph interview.”
Price herself remains unrepentant about her role. Asked if she is happy that what she now says may disrupt the peace process, she says: “I don’t believe in the process. ,” she said. “I think the process should be undermined, I think the process should be destroyed in some way and I think Gerry Adams, deserves to admit to his part, in all of the things that happened.”