Monday 24 April 2017

Adams won't be pushed, but Sinn Féin could give him the shove

Suzanne Breen

The Big Lad, as he is affectionately known by the party faithful in West Belfast, suddenly looks small. Gerry Adams has appeared increasingly outdated and vulnerable by events this week.

So bizarre has the Sinn Féin president's performance been that even those who have until now invested a papal-like infallibility in him must be thinking that it's time he left the stage.

Despite his desperation to be seen to be doing right by the family of murdered prison officer Brian Stack, Mr Adams has been cast in a sinister light. Bringing relatives of a victim in a blacked-out van to a secret location to meet the IRA may have been understandable during the Troubles, or shortly afterwards.

However, by 2013, almost two decades after the Provisional's ground-breaking ceasefire, it is more than a tad unsettling. This kind of carry-on was meant to have been long wound up. According to the image Mr Adams tries so hard to cultivate on Twitter, his most exotic adventures these days are with Tom and Ted and life with his rubber ducks.

Of course, peace is a messy business. Fianna Fáil entered the Dáil in 1927, in the words of Sean Lemass, as a "slightly constitutional party". But that changed relatively quickly. Almost a quarter of a century on, the shadow of the gunman still looms large over Sinn Féin.

This hardly encourages the very voters that the party is so desperate to woo in the Republic. And while its young and talented rising Southern stars want to fight political battles rooted in 2016, Mr Adams's controversial past keeps dragging them back to darker days.

The man himself fails to acknowledge that whenever he opens his mouth to criticise another politician or organisation, his own lack of credibility instantly negates his challenge. Someone who has elevated bare-faced lying into an art form can never successfully hold others to account.

When Austin Stack interrupted a Sinn Féin Brexit press conference to confront him this week, Mr Adams resembled a rabbit caught in headlights. The party knows that this may well set a precedent for more families. Will it have to put bouncers on the doors to prevent uninvited guests gatecrashing its events?

The Sinn Féin president was once seen as an energising, modernising figure who would take Sinn Féin to places it had never been. But he has hung around for so long that the opposite is true today. "Gerry and the Peacemakers", screamed the headlines of the early 1990s. Now, he's more like the man doing the Time Warp from 'The Rocky Horror Show'.

An entirely different audience will have been equally appalled this week but for very other reasons. The revelation that Mr Adams sent an email to the Garda Commissioner naming four republicans - including fellow TDs Martin Ferris and Dessie Ellis - as people who may have information about the Stack murder will horrify many grassroots activists.

Individuals passing details onto the police usually ended up on border roads - bound, gagged and with a bullet in the head not too long ago. Even today, if it emerged that anyone other than Gerry Adams had corresponded about their own comrades in this fashion, they would be, at the very least, socially ostracised.

Hatred for those who have co-operated with the security forces still runs deep in Sinn Féin's Northern heartlands. When news emerged recently of the death in England of IRA informer, Raymond Gilmour, there was unrestrained jubilation on social media.

Mr Adams, of course, has not stood in a witness box and testified against alleged IRA members. Yet his revealed level of engagement with gardaí will outrage many who have until now stood by him.

They will not interpret it as a belated act of compassion for a victim's family. Rather, they will see an email dispatched days before the General Election as an attempt to throw anybody under the bus in order to secure political power for himself.

Even if he is on this occasion telling the truth, and the names did come from Austin Stack, that will not in the slightest absolve him in many republican eyes.

Read More: Ferris unrepentant about criticism of Stack and repeats Nazi slur against prison officers

There is also huge hypocrisy at work here. Mr Adams's supporters denounced those veteran IRA men and women who gave interviews - meant to be released after their deaths - to ex-republican prisoner, Anthony McIntyre, for an American university research project. 'Boston College Touts' read the graffiti on West Belfast walls.

At every twist and turn, the Provisional leadership have demonised any former activists trying to shed light on past events to an academic, journalist or author. Yet here is their head honcho exposed as communicating about IRA activities with the Garda Commissioner.

Mary Lou McDonald has restated that she is very much up for being party president if a vacancy arises, although whether or not she would secure it is another matter. While tales will never be told of her gallivanting around the country in blackened vans, and she will definitely win middle-class voters, her appeal is less obvious to the party grassroots.

Regardless of who takes over, this week's events have surely hastened the likelihood of transition in the party.

In September, Sinn Féin announced that it was putting together a 10-year plan which would include a change of leadership. Seriously, a 10-year-plan? Even the apparatchiks may be rethinking the wisdom of Gerry's long goodbye.

Irish Independent

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