I never thought I'd feel sorry for Gerry Adams, but listening to Colm O Mongain's interview with him on Sunday's This Week, I kept squirming in sympathy.
The sound of shuffling paper over the airwaves from Derry as he hunted desperately for an answer to simple questions was embarrassing ('Eist liom. I'm going to get you the figures'); the gobbledygook was cringe-making; his blustering attempt to explain why in government in Northern Ireland Sinn Fein cut public spending yet are anti-cuts down south was excruciating; and then came the stomach-churner of 'the warm weather payments' awarded to denizens of the six counties under benign Sinn Fein rule, which actually were 'cold weather allowances' initiated in the 1980s.It was like watching an actor forget his lines on stage.
This 20-minutes of sheer humiliation had followed on poor Gerry's inability to tell a nosy BBC hack the rate of child benefit or even of VAT, and the farce of his resignation from Westminster. Now the guy's been an MP for 22 years, and although he doesn't formally attend the House of Commons, he's sometimes in the building and draws generous expenses for London accommodation. Sinn Fein's Westminster staff will have told him that apart from the dissolution of parliament, constitutionally the only excuses for vacating your seat are death, expulsion or elevation to the peerage, or securing one of two paid Crown sinecures. Since Iris Robinson at present is Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds, Adams had to apply for the Crown position of Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. He didn't, but rather than have a pointless row, the British government gave him the job anyway.
Mean people in the UK and Ireland then decided Adams had been enobled and mocked him. In a politics.ie blog, for instance, he appears variously as Baron Adams, Baron Ballymurphy, the Baron of Louth, Baron Chucky R Law, Baron Von Provo and 'Baron von Munchhausen (the Pathological liar)'. Honestly, people can be so unkind.
If Adams could be self-deprecating and humble about his mistakes and laugh at himself a bit, he would fare better, but he takes himself deadly seriously. He shows all the predictable characteristics of a first-born of 10: he demands respect, he orders people about, he has bullying tendencies and he always wants to be leader. Once happy with the adulation of the IRA and its fellow-travellers, as the peace process took Adams from the Felons' Club on the Falls Road to the New York Plaza, Number 10 Downing Street, the White House and Hollywood, his character took a turn for the worse.
Who could blame him? Politicians and diplomats begged him for favours, the media hung on his every word, impertinent interviewers were sent off whimpering when he denounced them for undermining the peace process and he was hailed as an international statesman and man of peace. A man not hitherto regarded as hot now had admirers like Edna O'Brien, Bianca Jagger and Barbra Streisand. He was snapped with presidents, prime ministers and taoisigh, political wives kissed him and the Sinn Fein shop sold a mug bearing a photograph of him shaking hands with Nelson Mandela. As the years went by people spoke more and more of his vanity, pomposity and arrogance and how he bored for Ireland.
In 1997, at the beginning of their peace negotiations, New Labour were rather partial to republicans; they got quite a frisson from the whiff of cordite. Tony Blair's right-hand man Alastair Campbell wrote in his diary of liking Adams and Martin McGuinness ("a mix of charm, friendliness with the occasional hint of menace"), but preferred McGuinness. ("There was a directness to him that I liked and he was driven by a genuine sense of grievance about the way people were forced to live. I guess Adams is too, but he also strikes me as more interested in his own place in the firmament, more a politician than a people's person.") Within a couple of years, Adams's arrogance was out of control. In April 1999, Campbell's diary records: "We got Clinton up at 5am US time to speak to Adams, who was busy delivering a history lesson to TB [Tony Blair] and too busy to take the fucking call. Berger [US National Security Adviser] was raging about it."
With McGuinness top Sinn Fein dog in Northern Ireland, Adams understandably grew weary with the dreary problems of West Belfast, where his sullen constituents wonder what has happened to the promised Utopian Sinn Fein-led United Ireland for which so many killed, died and suffered. Despite his ignorance of the South, he will almost certainly be elected. It will be fun to see how TDs cope with lectures from a didactic bore who doesn't really understand what he's talking about. Will they squirm or jeer?