Voters will make up minds on what Gerry knew
YOU just know something is happening when politicians accuse one another of 'playing politics'. The suspicion is even further confirmed when one of the parties goes into 'whinge mode'.
Take the reaction of Pearse O'Doherty of Sinn Fein on the plinth of Leinster House yesterday afternoon. "The claims and allegations are a new low for Micheal Martin and a new low for Fianna Fail -- they are unfounded and untrue. And he should reflect on what he did. Gerry Adams has answered all these questions."
Let's get one thing out of the way quickly: Is Micheal Martin playing politics? Yes, he very definitely is.
But that does not mean that what the Fianna Fail leader is asking is not valid. Nor does it in any way undermine Martin's right to question Adams' conduct in regard to his state of knowledge and actions in regard to his brother's child abuse.
The FF leader has every right to raise questions about the wider Republican movement's response to child abuse on the basis of information which has come to him. Could it be that in the past these republican diehards' response to such cases might have placed more emphasis on saving the movement's reputation than on addressing an abuse victim's plight? Can we draw a comparison, as Martin suggests, between the past attitudes of the Irish Catholic Church?
The answers there are: plausibly and if so most definitely.
Sinn Fein's reversion to crying foul about the media and political rivals yet again reminds us how they excel at giving out political criticism, but are less able to apply the corollary. It also suggests that, unlike recurring allegations of kidnap, torture and murder of people like the widowed mother of 10 children, Jean McConville, these questions about child abuse carry more potential harm.
Let us recall some incidences from the recent past when Sinn Fein spoke out unequivocally about cases of child abuse involving the Catholic Church. Almost four years ago to the very day, in November 2009, SF's rising star, Mary Lou McDonald, issued a very hard-hitting statement following publication of the 'Murphy Report' into clerical child sex abuse in the Dublin Catholic Archdiocese which had also focused on the churchmen's wish to avoid scandal.
Ms McDonald focused on those who did not help identify the culprits. "It is especially damning that the State authorities facilitated the cover-up and allowed the Church to be beyond the reach of the law. Senior gardai, up to and including the level of commissioner, repeatedly turned a blind eye to crimes of clerical sexual abuse.
"Anyone, including gardai, found to be complicit in the cover up of child abuse must be arrested and made to face the full rigours of the law," Ms McDonald said.
One month later, in December 2009, when Liam Adams faced 23 charges of abusing his own daughter, Ms McDonald defended her leader Gerry Adams's conduct in the matter.
In March 2010, Martin McGuinness, the long-time comrade of Gerry Adams, said Cardinal Sean Brady "should consider his position". McGuinness took time out from his visit to Washington for St Patrick's Day as Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, to comment on Dr Brady's role in swearing two young abuse victims to silence back in 1975 about abuse by the infamous Fr Brendan Smyth.
But after Liam Adams' conviction earlier this month Martin McGuinness brushed aside any suggestions of a parallel with Cardinal Brady's case. McGuinness said Gerry Adams, who had been traumatised by his own father abusing his siblings, had supported his niece and her mother in confronting his brother and reporting matters to the Northern authorities.
When you take out the FF rhetoric and the SF wounded indignation from all of this we are left with some key questions to Gerry Adams.
There appear to be inconsistencies in the SF president's story in the way we understand it so far. We understand that he decided as far back as 1987 that his brother, Liam, had sexually abused his own daughter.
Later versions of events include Gerry Adams talking about a 15-year estrangement from Liam up to 2002. But this estrangement period appears to include Liam Adams playing an important role in SF events in Dundalk along with his brother and Gerry Adams's presence at Liam's wedding in 1996. There is a seven-year gap between Liam Adams confessing child abuse and Gerry Adams reporting this to the police.
Most challenging of all is that Liam Adams continued as a youth worker for a long period during all of this.
Given all that, Micheal Martin has an obligation to pose all the relevant questions to his direct political opponents in Sinn Fein. Facts are user friendly -- let's have them. Voters are entitled to the fullest possible information about a potential party of government.
Ultimately, it is the voters who will make up their own minds about Gerry Adams.