There is an interesting piece in today’s Belfast Telegraph by Liam Clarke in which the writer lists the scandals enveloping SF President Gerry Adams in a miasma of rotten cabbage in the past few years.
They range from the disappearance of Jean McConville and Richard O’Rawe’s allegation that a deal to end the 1981 hunger strike and save six prisoners’ lives was sabotaged for political and electoral gain, to the cover up of child sexual abuse, one involving his brother Liam, the other the grand-daughter of the man who, according to Mairia Cahill, swore him into the IRA way back in the mid-1960’s, a figure who was in this writer’s certain knowledge, a close personal friend.
One common feature in the response to all these episodes is the savage and remorseless character assassination of those at the centre of the allegations. Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price were thus dismissed as dissident-friendly enemies of the peace process as was Richard O’Rawe, while myself and Anthony McIntyre who assisted both of these stories into daylight, are either bitter opponents of the IRA’s cessation and are, “touts” and “British agents” or are obsessed with bringing about the disgrace of Mr Adams (I rather think after this last week, the allegation of being obsessed with Gerry Adams’s downfall is an accolade that must now be awarded to the South’s media and political establishment; it certainly dwarfs anything the pair of us could manage!).
When his niece Aine Tyrell went public with her allegation that Gerry’s brother Liam had abused her as a child, the Sinn Fein president accused her of lying about his part in the matter; and he went on to bitterly contest in court the claim that he had known all about the allegation years before and had failed to warn the authorities, while angrily contesting well sourced claims that he had known about and perhaps had even helped his brother get jobs around children.
Mairia Cahill’s claims of an IRA/Sinn Fein cover up of her rape and a charge that Adams’ attitude towards her was, to say the least, callous and unfeeling have likewise been met, according to her interview with Liam Clarke, with bilious character assassination. Anonymous claims have surfaced via pro-Sinn Fein blogs that she was, as she told Liam Clarke, “everything from an MI6 agent to being out to undermine Gerry Adams”.
In addition attempts have been made to blacken the rape victim’s name by claiming that she was never raped at all but had a failed liaison with the man she claims was her abuser – in other words she is a woman scorned out for revenge!
There is a theme running through the response to all these scandals which is pretty difficult to miss, aside from the fact that Gerry Adams’s rejoinders are simply not true (one could start with the uncontestable fact that Brendan Hughes, Dolours Price, Anthony McIntyre and Richard O’Rawe had/have nothing but contempt for the dissidents and move on from there).
Most ordinary politicians in a normal society would be lucky to survive just one scandal like these four; Adams has survived three and if he survives the Mairia Cahill storm it will be because a) he again marshalls all his party resources behind himself in a vicious, no-holds barred assault on his enemies designed partly to silence the current critic and deter future one, and b) no-one in Sinn Fein has the courage – I was going to say balls but then remembered Mary Lou – to plunge the dagger.
This man will fight to the last man and woman in his party to stay in charge and, off the top of my head, I can think of three reasons why.
The first is that being the elected leader of Sinn Fein affords him protection from prosecution over the disappearance of Jean McConville (as well as a catalogue of other potential criminal charges) since to haul him into court on a charge of murdering the widowed mother-of-ten while he still presides over the republican bit of the peace process would cause a crisis in the process from which it would be fortunate to survive. (For instance could SF afford to stay in the power-sharing government while the reformed police force which they helped to create threatens to send their leader to jail and a life of disgrace? The dissidents would have a field day over Albion’s perfidy, Adams’ naivete and the joy of hardline Unionists while the SF electorate would likely desert in droves if there was no appropriately robust response)
As soon as Adams leaves or is ejected from the leadership of Sinn Fein he is in real danger of that sort of outcome because his arrest and conviction will have fewer negative implications for the peace process. He will instantly be transformed into yesterday’s man, a symbol of a difficult past that needs to be resolved, even in such regrettable ways, while his successor will be able to soldier on, if that is the right phrase, regretting what has happened but determined to keep the ship of peace on an even keel, etc, etc. Soon you would hear erstwhile associates mutter: “Well, he did bring it on himself!”
The second reason has to do with legacy, and IRA leaders are no less prone to be anxious about how history views them than any other public figures. Within a year to eighteen months, and assuming he recovers from Mairia Cahill without too much damage to SF’s standing in the polls, Gerry Adams could be Tanaiste in a cabinet in which Sinn Fein shares power.
Meanwhile across the Border in the Northern Assembly, Martin McGuinness will presumably continue being deputy to Peter Robinson or whoever takes over from him in the DUP and thus Sinn Fein will hold the post of deputy leader in both states and have bums on cabinet seats (and ministerial cars) in both jurisdictions.
It is not Irish freedom for sure but as sure as hell it is one impressive, and during most of the Troubles an unimaginable conclusion to the Northern violence. It is an outcome which deserves the adjective, historic. And for someone who refuses to acknowledge his own very considerable abilities as a military tactician and strategist in the IRA during the 1970’s it is the only set of laurel leaves he dares accept.
If anyone seriously thinks Gerry Adams is going to step down and allow someone else to take his seat at this jamboree, to steal his tropies, then they really need their heads examined. It ain’t gonna happen!
Which brings us neatly onto the third reason and that is this: Sinn Fein is his party, his creation, his idea. It was he who led the republican movement into politics, who schemed the entry into electoral success, who plotted, persuaded, planned, inveigled, duped, bullied, lied and deceived the IRA into a ceasefire and then into the Good Friday Agreement, IRA decommissioning, the acceptance of the consent principle, the PSNI and so on and so on. And it was he who gave all the newbies their chance, who selected them and eased their way past older, reliable friends from IRA days.
When I began research into my study of this process, ‘A Secret History of the IRA’, I was inspired to undertake what was clearly a daunting task by an admission one of Gerry Adams’ most trusted and closest advisers had made to a friend we shared. “If people knew what we were trying to do”, he told our mutual friend back in the 1990’s, “we’d be found in a ditch with our wrists tied behind our backs.”
It was an enormously dangerous enterprise that he and a few colleagues embarked upon in the early 1980’s. One false step and they were all dead men. It was why I wrote in ‘A Secret History of the IRA’ that he deserved a share of the Nobel Peace Prize given to John Hume and David Trimble; in fact deserved it more than they.
Anyone who thinks that Gerry Adams would give up another of the peace process’ glittering prizes – a Sinn Fein hand on the tiller of state in both parts of Ireland – to Johnny-come-lately figures like Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty, people who couldn’t distinguish the smell of cordite from peat and who many in the IRA sneer at privately as carpetbaggers, then they are living in fantasy land.
As I wrote above: It ain’t gonna happen.