'DOES my sexiness upset you?" There could be few more inappropriate words when under pressure for failing to alert others to allegations of serious sexual abuse; but that line, from a Maya Angelou poem tweeted by Gerry Adams last weekend, almost symbolises how out of touch the Sinn Fein leader is becoming in this still unfolding story.
here was more of the same too: "Does my sexiness upset you?/ Does it come as a surprise/ That I dance like I've got diamonds/ At the meeting of my thighs?" Those who always suspected that the Adams Twitter account is a parody could never have been more convinced that they were right.
If only they were. Adams has asked for space and privacy to deal with traumatic issues in his own family, yet still comes out with ill-advised gestures such as this, which are only bound to add to doubts about his judgement.
Whilst SF accuses its critics of making political capital out of their leader's personal difficulties, Adams also does not hold back from using Twitter to condemn the "despicable posturing of some cynics" in response to the questions he still has to answer about what he did or did not do after being told by his niece Aine that she was abused by her father, Adams's brother. Sinn Fein's attitude to all this is that it is a private matter and they will not comment until the Attorney General (AG) has completed a review into the decision not to prosecute Adams for withholding information. But that is only one aspect of this story.
The legal process is one thing. No one should pre-empt the AG's decision. The other aspect concerns Adams's own actions within Sinn Fein and in his own life, and SF's wider responsibility.
The AG has no jurisdiction over, or interest in, such matters; his office cannot be used as convenient cover. This is where attention must now be directed.
It's not as if the issue can be parked. The handling of child abuse allegations has torn Ireland apart in the last two decades, as Mary Lou McDonald appeared to recognise when, in comments following the publication of the Ryan report into clerical child abuse in 2009, she declared: "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."
She was not the only one making similarly uncompromising statements about the party's attitude. When the Stormont Executive in Belfast launched an inquiry into how historic child abuse allegations had been handled, SF's Sue Ramsey said: "Obviously this inquiry must be victim centred and led. We will continue to engage with victim's representatives and groups and ensure that their needs remain the focus."
Such statements are becoming increasingly difficult for SF to make as more cases emerge of how the republican movement dealt with victims of sexual violence who went to the IRA and SF for help.
Given our history, child protection issues should be at the forefront of every party, but SF is in the position of now hoping they go on the back burner, because, each time the issue comes up, their own leader's poor judgement will be raised.
Remove the Liam Adams case entirely from the equation. There, it's gone. The understanding for which Sinn Fein is asking in respect of Gerry Adams because of his personal situation has no relevance when it comes to other victims who were also badly treated by other senior memebers of Sinn Fein when seeking help.
One woman who was raped by an IRA member as a teenager, and who subsequently became aware of the existence of other victims of the same man, is on record revealing how Sinn Fein fobbed her off repeatedly, and how she was forced to take part in an internal republican investigation. "I felt like I was under interrogation," she told the Sunday Independent last week, "and I was told the abuser had rights as an IRA volunteer. I was already traumatised from the abuse. The IRA forcing a so-called investigation only served to traumatise me further." She was even warned off from seeking therapeutic help at a time when she was desperate and unhappy.
Nor do family considerations excuse instances where other Sinn Fein members apart from Adams treated victims appallingly.
No one who bothers to delve beneath the surface of SF's family friendly facade can be in any doubt that the republican movement has been covering up sexual crimes for decades. As with priests, rapists or child abusers who were members of the IRA were dealt with either by enforcing a code of silence on victims, or by shipping the perpetrator to other parts of the country or even out of Ireland entirely.
Until the Nineties, the Catholic Church was still contending that allegations of child abuse brought to its attention were isolated incidents. Subsequently, the whole facade crumbled and victims tumbled out of the wreckage. Sinn Fein is now in the same position – treating cases on a one-by-one basis, unwilling to deal with the collective weight of what is coming down the line. Slowly but surely the truth is being chipped out of them.
Last week, guest writer Antaine Mac Dhomhnaill wrote a piece on The Pensive Quill, the website run by former IRA volunteer Anthony McIntyre, describing how he became aware, as a novice republican, that a Sinn Fein member was grooming young men for sex. When he reported it to the IRA, he got the impression this wasn't the first complaint. Instead of dealing with it promptly, however, it was Mac Dhomhnaill himself who was initially moved to another area, and "the level of hostility I met with socially was frightening".
He was eventually dismissed from the movement.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the leadership of the Provisional Movement were actively and knowingly engaged in the systematic cover-up of sex crimes," he says. This has been confirmed repeatedly by the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre (BRCC), which helps victims who were on the receiving end of sexual violence by republican and loyalist paramilitaries and subsequent cover-ups. In at least one instance, a rape scene was cleaned by republicans to remove incriminating evidence against a Volunteer. IRA members, often female, were also frequently sent to warn victims against contacting the BRCC, let alone the police.
"There have been other women by no means happy by how they were treated by Sinn Fein," Eileen Calder, of BRCC confirms. "No doubt questions need to be asked publicly how many other cases did Adams know about, and what did he do about it, and when is he going to issue an apology to those victims who didn't get satisfaction from his party?" The women that Calder meets are "usually very frightened, very angry or both, and they're reticent to trust anybody." Knowing this logjam of secrecy could burst at any moment only adds to the pressure on SF as it stands solidly behind a man who was leader of the republican movement throughout the time when SF was systematically failing victims of sexual abuse and violence.
There are only two options. Sinn Fein in the Republic either does not know the powder keg on which it's sitting, because representatives have not taken the trouble to look into the testimonies of victims, or else they do know but are crossing their fingers and betting the farm on a hope that more of the party's dirty little secrets don't come tumbling out.
It's a high-risk strategy either way. The Northern branch of the republican movement may think it was justified in sacrificing sex abuse victims to the wider political cause; but for the Republic, sexual abuse has been the country's psychological equivalent of the Troubles: destructive, traumatic, transformative. To not explore those matters honestly is to back away from engaging with the damaged soul of the nation.
For all his other faults, Enda Kenny has never wavered for one second on child protection. Sinn Fein still refuses to do likewise. What are they so afraid of?