Colum Kenny

Thursday 24 July 2014

Gerry’s tweets turn him from ‘Grizzly’ Adams to cuddly bear

The Sinn Fein leader seems to be having his cake and eating it as he woos the younger techie generation

Colum Kenny

Published 11/05/2014|00:24

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Gerry’s tweets turn him from ‘Grizzly’ Adams to cuddly bear
Gerry’s tweets turn him from ‘Grizzly’ Adams to cuddly bear

When Gerry Adams last week tweeted an image of a chocolate cake he was using his Twitter account to do what he does best online, winding up critics while projecting to the public an image of himself as a regular guy.

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The thick brown chocolate gateau, with “Failte ar ais”  (“welcome back”) written in lurid pink icing, was baked for him after his release from police custody.

He tweeted the image with a message that said: “Back in Leinster House. The Tyrone woman knew I was coming. So she baked a cake. Go raibh maith agat.”

It is all so cosy, like the pictures of a teddy bear and cuddly dogs that have also bedecked his Twitter account. And it has driven speculation about the state of his mind.

The social media sites of many politicians are cringe-making. And the image that Adams projects of himself on Twitter, as some kind of endearing father-figure, seems borderline barmy at best.

But Adams is no idiot, as his performance last week after his release from police custody clearly showed. 

His tweets may be tasteless. Not everyone got to eat cake last week. There will be no “failte ar ais” for Jean McConville. She is never coming back. He tweeted last week: “I made no threat against Michael McConville.” This was quickly retweeted 40 times by his online followers.

His tweets enrage some, fuelling yet another heated discussion on RTE’s Liveline last week. But they also serve a political purpose. They keep him in touch with people who daily use social media, many of whom have little memory of IRA outrages.

Adams of course is not the only famous figure to tweet implausibly. Even the pope is at it.

And you have to wonder how many celebrities and political leaders really tweet for themselves. Last week, it was reported that a “close adviser” of Adams was discovered to have placed tweets on the Adams’ account while the Sinn Fein leader was in custody. How many tweets of the famous are simply written by hired hands?

It would be easy to dismiss tweets about teddies and chocolate cake as mad, the sign of a decaying mind. But Adams has proven himself one of the shrewdest Irish politicians and is unlikely to have embarked on his Twitter account without forethought.

At one level it is a kind of “feck-you” to media commentators and the politically sophisticated. Call it post-modern irony if you wish.

But it has a deadly edge. For at another level it colours the past, inviting online communities to meet their parents’ bogeyman and get his unchallenged spin on things.

His tweets are laced with political persuasion. So last week he posted a picture of well-groomed Sinn Fein politicians gazing at a sweatshirted songster. The message was “Don Baker entertaining our EU candidates et mise @ packed public meeting in Dublin.”

That “et mise”, a mixture of Latin with Irish meaning “and me”, is indicative. He projects an image of himself as safely Catholic and nationalist. His various “cupla focail” are not too much to deter the average tweeter, but enough to send a culturally correct message.

Another example of his spoonful of sugar helping medicine go down was his last Tweet on Tuesday, at 4.45 in the afternoon. It read: “Oiche mhaith daoibh. This is late 4 me. Started @ 5.30 this morn. Scrioste now. Me & RG working on an account of interrogation. Zzzzzxo” Really XO? Kiss and hug who?

His tweets that get most media attention seem quite bizarre. But the clue to their posting lies as much in that media attention as it does in the state of “Gerry’s” mind.

For getting noticed on Twitter is the first requirement. No point in tweeting if nobody reads you.

There was the wounded Teddy bear, with a bandage on his head. And the message with that cute picture: “Me @ Ted have work 2 do. Have a nice Lent.” Who says “Have a nice Lent”? And was this really a smug message about Sinn Fein’s Ted Howell?

No pictures of bandaged victims of the Troubles of course. But there are fond references to Bobby Sands and some retweets of posts by Danny Morrison. The IRA may be gone away but its memory lingers on.

Music, religion, home comforts. It is quite a profile. Of a soft man. Some people pay a fortune to image consultants for this kind of thing: “Joni Mitchell on the radio. Iontach. I like Sundays. And dipped soda and black pudding with my fry.”

Is he serious? I doubt it. But then sentimentality is sometimes a feature of the personality of people who make decisions that have serious consequences for others.

Having a fry is not too healthy. Telling people you just had one and dipped your soda in it is a way of sending messages. At one level it says you are just an average human being with weaknesses. At another you invite people to give two fingers to those who think that they know better.

But if Adams is sending people up, his sense of humour grates on some who have suffered. Gerry tells us that he has been out on his bike at dawn and seen a squirrel chasing a cat. Really Gerry? “Glad 2 b alive,” he declares. Wouldn’t they all be, Gerry?

Children, too, feature, as for many electioneering politicians. And even a rubber duck in a bath.

His Twitter account is unique, colourful, current and attention-grabbing. In a social media world where getting noticed seems to be the main point, that alone would make it work.

If he is abused for it, he is so used to abuse that it is like water off his rubber duck’s back. Meanwhile he peppers his tweets with enough political purpose to ensure that anyone who takes them at face value gets his message.

Sunday Independent

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