Past will haunt Sinn Fein while Adams stays
Electoral success can't obscure questions over the party leader's character and deeds
Published 01/06/2014 | 02:30
Labour right now is like a man hunched over his pint at the end of the bar, moaning that his wife doesn't understand him. Sinn Fein is the bad boy made good, flashing his cash and boasting how he proved everyone wrong.
There's always a strange edge of aggression to such triumphalism, as if it's only one small step from celebration to confrontation. If this is how the party acts when it is doing well, imagine what SF will be like when it all goes pear-shaped again. It always does eventually. That's politics.
Not that it doesn't have the right to enjoy its place in the sun. Elections belong to winners. Nor is the party necessarily wrong to say that the political and media establishment – for such is how it sees its enemies, as if everyone who doesn't like SF is part of some sinister, unified conglomerate, in the manner of the Empire in Star Wars – needs to start taking SF seriously as a major force and rethinking how it counters its challenge when so many people have been driven by despair into the arms of extremists promising superficially attractive solutions.
But it works both ways. If SF wants to be treated with respect, then it also needs to see beyond the cliched caricature it has of those who remain unconvinced that the leopard has changed its spots. Forget the self-pitying mythology of glorious resistance for a moment. There's no point harping on that tune to people who aren't drinking the Kool Aid.
Instead, just listen for a moment and genuinely try to understand why, to give a name to the bearded elephant in the room, Gerry Adams remains the thin red line that many Irish people cannot and will not cross.
Instead of swaggering around the TV studios, demanding respect like a gangsta rapper who can't bear to be 'dissed', SF should consider the feelings of its critics too. At the very least, deal with the fact that Adams is a contentious figure who was closely involved in events during the darkest days of recent history, a chapter that is far from being closed.
Countless victims are still dealing with the trauma of the Troubles – and of course that includes the victims of British and loyalist violence too. But loyalists aren't standing for election in the Republic. The head of the British army does not want to be Tanaiste. The argument that 'They' did it too doesn't stand up if 'They' aren't the alternative at the polls.
Imagine that Fianna Fail, rising in the polls once more, announced it was bringing back Bertie Ahern as leader. SF would find that provocative and divisive – yet Bertie, for all his faults when it came to steering the economy through good and difficult times alike, has infinitely fewer questions to answer, as a human being, than Adams does. Character matters. If we have to move on and accept SF, the party should be prepared to move on too, by laying the past which Adams represents to rest. It can't happen when he's still there as a constant reminder.