Wednesday 18 September 2019

This is the end for Adams and Mugabe... finally

Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace (AP)
Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace (AP)
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

I don't watch a lot of telly, and hardly ever current affairs. So it was peculiar timing that last weekend, for no reason, I happened to turn on RTÉ1, about 15 seconds before Gerry Adams announced he'd be standing down as Sinn Féin president.

He smiled, said "This is the important bit", then declared it to be his last Ard Fheis. Adams, the Sinn Féin chief - and TD for Louth - will soon be no more.

This is literally history in the making. Adams has been Sinn Féin president since 1983. Thirty-four years, a third of a century: three-quarters of my entire life, and in fact I don't really remember a time before Gerry Adams was in the public eye.

Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, the end was also looming for Robert Mugabe. He's been President for almost as long as Adams ruled the roost, taking power in 1987 (and was Prime Minister for seven years before that). Again, I don't remember a time when Mugabe wasn't in the news, inextricably linked with Zimbabwe.

Kevin Myers used to conflate Fianna Fáil and Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, for satirical purposes, in writing about a band of inept yahoos called Zanu-FF. It's strange, when you think about it, that both the Adams and Mugabe stories would break in the same week Myers himself returned to the spotlight.

Yes, I know it's coincidental. Still, though - an out-of-the-ordinary coincidence.

Anyway, the airwaves were inundated with material about Gerry and Bob all week. To take the latter first, you could cut through the clutter by listening to the half-hour Profile of Robert Mugabe (BBC World Service, Thur 7.30am).

This exemplary life history was put together and presented by Grant Ferrett, who reported for the BBC from Harare in the late 1990s, when the economy and rule-of-law began to collapse in Zimbabwe.

It was a predictably depressing story of a man rising to power, being corrupted by it, and basically turning everything to rottenness and ashes.

Mugabe was reared in Southern Rhodesia at a Catholic mission school and educated by an Irish Jesuit, Fr Jerome O'Hea. He started off in politics with some admirable principles and aims - or at least, he could pretend he had them - but eventually, the mask slipped and a despotic gangster was revealed.

As a former colleague dolefully intoned, "We gave him the opportunity to manage the party, he has ruined it. We gave him the opportunity to run the country - the country is destroyed."

If Mugabe was widely covered by radio this week, Gerry Adams was close to omnipresent. This is presumably only the beginning; he hasn't - ahem - gone away you know (yet), so we can expect months of Adams retrospectives and analyses between now and next year's ard fheis which will decide his successor. (Wouldn't it be an amazing plot twist if Robert Mugabe got the nod?)

For now, we have his interview on This Week (Radio 1, Sun 1pm): that rumbling burr was as unmistakable as ever. Brian Dowling showed some cojones to ask if a challenge to his leadership "would be a de facto challenge to the leadership of the IRA"?

Gerry, true to form, brushed the question aside: easily, casually, almost contemptuously. He's actually brilliant in his media dealings, and that brilliance is kind of scary.

To my untutored eye, Adams did a lot that was good, a lot that was bad (some of it very, very bad)… so it is with most people, especially those at the sharp end of conflict. But I don't think the final departure of him, or his kind, will be a loss to Irish public life.

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