Northern Ireland

NI state papers: Unionist protest at Gerry Adams hospital 'guard'

RUC officer outside Royal Victoria Hospital A&E
Image caption Police maintained a presence outside the Royal Victoria Hospital while Gerry Adams was treated

On 14 March 1984, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and three companions were shot and wounded by the UFF loyalist paramilitary group while driving back from a court appearance in Belfast city centre.

The West Belfast MP was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) for emergency surgery.

The circumstances surrounding Mr Adams' stay in the hospital were the subject of a series of complaints by Ulster Unionist MP Rev Martin Smyth, who alleged that Mr Adams was being "guarded" by republicans while in hospital.

In a note on the file for the NIO Under-Secretary John Patten on 22 March, R F Sterling, an official at the Stormont Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), reported that Mr Smyth had phoned the minister's office to complain about reports that Sinn Féin members were guarding Mr Adams and his colleagues.

'Tensions high'

According to Mr Sterling, the South Belfast MP was "particularly indignant that these people were reported to be stopping and questioning members of the public within the hospital".

Image caption Rev Martin Smyth was UUP MP for South Belfast at the time

Mr Sterling explained to the minister that Mr Adams and his companions had been housed in a secure ward and placed under the protection of armed police.

All four, he noted, were material witnesses to an armed assault and "clearly their lives were at risk".

Questioned by Mr Smyth in the House of Commons on 21 March 1984 about the alleged guard, Mr Prior insisted that the Sinn Féin leader "was given medical attention under the protection of the RUC".

He also rejected a claim that British intelligence had been aware of the murder bid on Mr Adams in advance.

In a letter to Mr Smyth on 22 March 1984, Mr Prior admitted that the hospital authorities believed some members of Sinn Féin might have been present but they were confined to the public areas and "were not guarding" the Sinn Féin president.

Image caption Civil disturbances on the streets of Belfast followed the shooting

He told the MP that "as tensions were already running high in the aftermath of the shooting of Mr Adams, the police, for operational reasons, did not wish to exacerbate an already tense situation".

The issue arose again in April 1984 when Mr Smyth raised the case of the transfer of one of the wounded Sinn Féin party to the Ulster Hospital at Dundonald in east Belfast for specialist treatment.

In a note for the secretary of state, J Scott of the DHSS admitted that the Sinn Féin leader had enjoyed the attention of visitors who sat outside the hospital's intensive care unit.

They had co-operated with hospital staff but there had been "rumbles of discontent from staff about their continuous presence".

As a result, the local DUP MP Peter Robinson had phoned the hospital to complain.

Image caption Gerry Adams was first elected West Belfast MP a year before

Eventually, the RUC decided that the presence of the visitors "was a potent source of civil unrest in east Belfast and that they should be moved".

In a note to Mr Scott, P Coulson of the NIO's Law and Order Unit said it was not an offence to be a member of Sinn Féin, nor "to patrol up and down hospital corridors".

In his view, the implication that such irritants were matters for the secretary of state was "the most deplorable aspect of the whole silly episode".

Mr Smyth remained dissatisfied, telling Mr Prior on 11 May 1984: "I am still not happy. I can accept police tactics at times but I believe it was tragic that these people were able to exercise their place in hospitals."