Under fire from all sides: Gerry Adams distrusted by dissidents and democrats
Published 24/09/2016 | 02:30
If this all seems depressingly familiar, it will be because it has happened several times before in a clearly established format.
There is a pattern to the travails of one Gerard Adams. First come the accusations; these are met by denials; then variously the other Sinn Féin heavy-hitters come out by degrees to stand by their man and denounce his detractors.
The counter-attacks then follow with the accusers coming under fire, variously dubbed securocrats with an agenda. Finally, there are no-holds barred attacks on the media messengers who are branded as lackeys of the system.
Then things settle back down again. This is the strange world of Sinn Féin politics - after a brief illumination on how it enmeshes with the murky and often tragic episodes of the Northern Troubles, it slopes back to its old ways.
This pattern was on display when Mr Adams was accused of directing the abduction, murder and disappearance of the widowed mother of 10 children, Jean McConville. We saw it in deeply disturbing responses to sexual abuse allegations involving his own brother, Liam.
It was evident again in the Republican leadership's dreadful non-response to sex abuse victims like Maíria Cahill and Paudie McGahon.
A week after the 68-year-old Sinn Féin president told us for the first time that he planned to quit, without telling us when, he is once more at the centre of more serious allegations linked to Republicans. This time it is of much more recent vintage, dating from 2006, and the killing of a man called Denis Donaldson.
Let us quickly outline this latest one again. Donaldson was a veteran Belfast IRA man, who had joined up even before the Troubles erupted in 1969. He went on to become a senior Sinn Féin official and close colleague of the party president, Gerry Adams.
He was aged 55 when shot dead at an isolated cottage near Glenties in Co Donegal in April 2006.
The previous December he had admitted that he had been an MI5 and police special branch agent for more than two decades. His family have been fighting to find out more around the circumstances of his death.
The murder came at a time when the IRA was under a ceasefire and ostensibly in the process of disbanding. For a brief period it appeared that it might undermine the peace process - but all sides in security services and political parties laid the stress on the likelihood that it was done by those elements which are appallingly inaccurately named "dissident republicans."
The incident passed like many others. The imperfect and fragile peace was deemed to be the only show in town.
In a BBC 'Spotlight' documentary programme, broadcast on Tuesday, a man claimed the IRA was responsible for the murder - and that Mr Adams sanctioned it. Mr Adams flatly denies these claims and accused British security agents of spreading false allegations. He has also threatened to sue the BBC.
The new generation of "Post-Troubles" Sinn Féin politicians were at their leader's defensive work soon afterwards. On Thursday Eoin Ó Broin, party economic guru and Dublin Mid-West TD said: "I pay no attention to these absolutely baseless allegations against Gerry Adams. I don't think anybody is paying much heed to these groundless claims." On Friday, deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was in full flow and she added some comments about "bad journalism" and "bad form."
Then she reserved some specific invective for this news group and its journalists.
"A lot of sentiment on the ground particularly in respect to Independent News & Media says 'here we go again'. You can set your clock by them. Here we go, what is it this time," Ms McDonald said.
Well, all sides will bear up and go on as best they can. As noted above, we have seen Sinn Féin heavy-hitters in wounded mode giving it "more in sorrow than anger" before. But it is important to also note that we are dealing with allegations of alleged links to the murder of another human being concerning a senior national politician. Let Sinn Féin fulminate and calumniate while we continue questioning.
The extraordinary thing at the centre of all this, is that since the shadows of World War II were erased by the passage of time, no other mainstream politician in the entirety of Western Europe has faced such fundamental and serious questions.
If any other political leader faced a fraction of the controversial questions and doubts surrounding his or her reputation, an enforced resignation would have followed very promptly. In fact, given the political positioning of the other key parties in the North, notably the DUP and SDLP, their principals' careers could never have sustained such controversies.
But it has also been clear for a long time that Mr Adams is mistrusted by both democrats and dissidents. His supporters believe he will "handle" this one much easier than many of the previous episodes.
But they may be missing an important point. This is that Mr Adams has for the first time told us that he is "off."
It gives him a political vulnerability which many politicians since the dawn of time have shared.
Smooth and easy departures are rare enough.