Adams's callousness reveals gulf between Sinn Fein and Irish public
THE disconnect between the Sinn Fein hierarchy's thought processes and those of most Irish people is more pronounced than I suspected. And that causes a problem for the party – but it causes a graver one for democracy.
It's not just that Gerry Adams is a leader whose past is an impediment to his party gaining broad popular support in the Republic. It's that a certain ambiguity in the leader's attitude to murders carried out by the IRA during the Troubles has infected others in his party.
Younger politicians who are supposed to embody the post-Good Friday generation. The clean pair of hands generation. The generation preparing to succeed Adams, in time.
Clearly, Sinn Fein has decided to stand shoulder to shoulder with its president, come what may. Perhaps it suspects a media conspiracy to topple Adams, nonsensical though that is (the media is too busy competing to plot together). But the cost of continuing to support him is a high one, and Adams is not the only one damaged by it.
TD Padraig MacLochlainn's credibility has taken a pummelling thanks to his vigorous support of the leader, and his refusal to accept or engage with criticism of a grotesque remark which met with public distaste on both sides of the border.
Adams advanced a claim so surreal, it occupies a parallel universe: that two senior RUC officers ambushed by the IRA brought their deaths on themselves with their "laissez-faire disregard" for safety in travelling through south Armagh to meet Dundalk gardai.
In the wake of his controversial remark on Newstalk, Adams offered a clarification rather than an apology yesterday: "It is nonsense to suggest that I was blaming the two RUC officers for their own deaths. Everyone knows the IRA was responsible. That was never in question." In fact, his reference to a security lapse suggested they colluded in their own deaths.
Perhaps Adams's background has anaesthetised him to how the overwhelming majority of people would and did react to such a statement. But I'm puzzled at what MacLochlainn's excuse might be for defending the indefensible. Loyalty? The Irish people deserve some of that from elected representatives, too. And by the way, blind, unquestioning loyalty was criticised by the Smithwick Tribunal in a different setting: guards being faithful to the force rather than to law and order. It is useful neither in political parties nor in police forces.
Championing Adams on 'Tonight with Vincent Browne' on TV3 and later on RTE's 'Morning Ireland', MacLochlainn performed a disservice to himself, the party and the electorate. It will do nothing to promote Sinn Fein's objective of power-sharing in the Dail as well as Stormont. MacLochlainn and others in Sinn Fein need to renounce the sort of equivocations we hear from their leader in relation to Troubles-related violence. Not seek to contextualise them.
Instead, Sinn Fein prefers to attack the Smithwick report – MacLochlainn described it as "contradictory" and "disputed" – and in so doing, the party reveals itself to be isolated from how most ordinary people react to the revelations contained in it.
The suggestion by Adams that the murdered officers only had themselves to blame, which the Donegal deputy did nothing to dilute, is a callous one. It is detrimental to democracy to have it put forward by the leader of a party seeking to position itself as mainstream. Surely his lieutenants must see that.
Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan did not die because they adopted a casual approach to their safety, but because an IRA team targeted and shot them. They went to Dundalk garda station to discuss a joint, cross-border crackdown on smuggling – believed to be controlled by the IRA.
They didn't seek to be shot. They didn't deserve it.
We should be thankful those acts of violence belong to history. Thankful, too, to Mr Adams for the part he played in putting them behind us. But let's not blur the difference between right and wrong. Victims of crime are victims – they are not complicit.
He may well be battle-hardened, or mindful of the sensitivities of former comrades, but others do not subscribe to the nuances by which he operates. Yes, he has made a more significant contribution to the peace process than Alan Shatter, or Eamon Gilmore, or any of those in the Dail attacking him.
YES he called the RUC men "brave officers doing their duty as they saw it" – but he bracketed it with IRA volunteers doing their duty. It allows for ambivalence.
In private, we must hope some Sinn Fein politicians have their heads sunk in their hands, even when they defend Adams in public.
But there comes a point when loyalty to the leader becomes disloyalty to the party and its aspirations. That point has now been reached. Finally, I note how there was relatively little co-operation between the RUC and the gardai during the Troubles, and now we know why: the RUC didn't trust the gardai. On the basis of the Smithwick report, they were probably right.