Revelation | 

IRA leadership allowed work on Maze Prison escape tunnel 'as form of therapy'

The revelation came in secret documents released from the State Papers
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams

Ralph Riegel

The republican leadership in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland knew in 1997 that an escape tunnel bid would not work but still allowed inmates to proceed with the project as a form of "therapy".

Further, the republican command structure - which supported Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in their peace talks with the Irish and British governments - did not want the escape tunnel to succeed amid fears it would allow "hard-line republican prisoners" who opposed the peace process free to potentially wreck the talks.

The revelation came in secret documents released from the State Papers.

In a letter to the second secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs' Anglo-Irish division, Seán Ó hUigínn, an official of the Anglo-Irish secretariat in Belfast, revealed a conversation with Breidge Gadd of the Northern Ireland Probation Board.

The letter, dated April 16, 1997, outlined the view of Belfast diplomats on the ongoing peace process and the potential restoration of the IRA ceasefire.

An Irish diplomat outlined a conversation with Ms Gadd in which she criticised the "complacency of the British government's reaction to the recent escape bid, suggesting that this affair would have precipitated a major political furore and ministerial resignations in any other jurisdiction".

"At the same time, Ms Gadd believes, from recent contacts with inmates, that the work on this tunnel did not constitute a serious escape bid.

"Her understanding is that the work was approved by the republican leadership in the Maze but that the latter, for various reasons, had no intention of allowing it to be completed."

The diplomat outlined that Ms Gadd believed the escape tunnel was never considered a viable escape route.

"The project would have had value as a form of occupational therapy to keep prisoners occupied and away from drugs. However, the republican command structure would have been aware that, had the escape succeeded, the prisoners concerned would in all likelihood have been rearrested not long afterwards and would have found themselves back in prison paying a stiff penalty in the form of an additional tariff and at a time when, conceivably, a renewed ceasefire might be letting many of their colleagues out.

"In addition, the republican command, who support Adams and the political wing of the movement, were worried about the involvement in the escape bid of a number of hard-line republican prisoners who wish to see a full-scale return to IRA violence and who could have been expected to stir up trouble had they succeeded in escaping.

"For these various reasons, Ms Gadd understands the republican leadership in the prison always intended to intervene to halt the escape attempt shortly before the tunnel was finished."

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