A year of scandal but Gerry's digging his heels in
Gerry Adams has faced a number of tough questions this year but his leadership has somehow remained intact, writes Jim Cusack
The Republic has suffered from "decades of gombeenism", Gerry Adams stated in his latest weekly column for the west Belfast Sinn Fein-supporting newspaper, Andersonstown News.
He quoted a 'southern comrade' who told him to count his fingers after shaking hands with any Fine Gael, Fianna Fail or Labour politicians. In all these parties, he was advised, "partitionism is ingrained".
Adams (left) then lashed into Fine Gael and Fianna Fail accusing them of "turning their back on truth recovery" in their criticism of him for failing to supply gardai with information about the IRA's murder of Portlaoise prison chief Brian Stack in March 1983.
Adams, in his column, continued to ignore the Stack family's questions about their father, but made it clear that in light of the "despicable and opportunistic" political reaction he would be likely to say: "Sorry, I can't help" to any other families of the IRA's 1,800 or so murder victims.
His grinning picture by-line on the column comes with the sub-heading: "He hasn't gone away, you know", an apparently amusing nod to his infamous public comment about the IRA in the post-ceasefire period.
Other than acceptance of the usual 'Free State' bashing bit it is unclear what many Andersonstown News readers might make of Adams's lengthy diatribe on "truth recovery" and the murder of Brian Stack in Dublin 33 years ago. There is relatively little interest or knowledge of the Stack family's quest for justice in the North and Adams has been absent other than for election appearances for seven years.
There was considerable surprise, even alarm in some quarters, when it was learned that Adams had supplied the names of four IRA men, three of them now senior Sinn Fein figures, to Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan in February this year.
Gardai have yet to question Adams about the letter but in West Belfast such an act is unequivocally seen as "informing" - which Adams himself said in the past is "punishable by death". The IRA "executed" at least 76 of its members - plus an unknown number of innocent civilians it accused of passing information to the RUC or Garda.
The northern Provo community has been rife with paranoia, sometimes turning violent over the ongoing revelations that Adams was surrounded by British intelligence, including former close aide Denis Donaldson (Adams has yet to sue over a September BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme on Donaldson's murder in which he was accused of sanctioning the killing).
One republican source in the North said the revelation that Adams had sent names to the Garda Commissioner was "a bit of a bombshell".
Local sources said Adams's supporters in the city were already in a state of anxiety since the murder of their close associate and reputed IRA boss-in-the-making, Brendan 'Jock' Davison (46) in April last year. Davison was one of the gang that beat and stabbed innocent Belfast man Robert McCartney to death in January 2004 leading to the prolonged but unsuccessful campaign by McCartney's sisters for his murderers to be brought to justice.
One of the hurdles that the McCartney family faced and could not overcome was that Davison and others in the gang that murdered Robert were protected by their police or security service handlers. Davison was believed to have been one of dozens, if not hundreds of informants inside the IRA. Despite this, republican sources said he was about to be made "chief of staff" of the IRA at the time of his murder.
It is also believed in the city that Davison was one of a number of men assassinated by a group terming itself the "New IRA", believed to be composed of ex-Provisional IRA members and said to be disillusioned with Adams and Sinn Fein as well as the IRA 'dissident' groups engaged in drug peddling and gangsterism.
There have been considerable concerns about this group since it emerged last year that they had control of large amounts of the weapons and explosives that were not decommissioned by the IRA.
This 'New' IRA group is among the possible suspect list for the murder of 'dissident' republican gangster, Aidan 'the Beast' O'Driscoll (37) in Cork earlier this month for allegedly pocketing extortion and drug money.
The same group is also on the suspect list in the murder of the Dublin multiple killer and heroin dealer, Mark Desmond (41) in Lucan on December 3. It is believed Desmond was on a dissident republican murder list, being blamed for the September 2011 murder of well-known former Provo Liam Kenny (53) at his home in Chapelizod in west Dublin.
Sources in Northern Ireland say the "New" IRA group may be responsible for a dozen or more murders of figures suspected of being informants formerly protected by either the police or the secret intelligence service, MI5.
While the issue of high-level spies in the IRA and Sinn Fein is an issue publicly discussed and reported on in the Northern media, it has gained no traction in the Southern media, much of which continues to treat Adams and his devotees in Sinn Fein as a purely normal constitutional party.
Adams himself admitted in an article in the Guardian newspaper that he was asked during his arrest and interrogation in May 2014 by PSNI detectives investigating the disappearance and murder of Jean McConville if he was 'recruited' by the old Royal Ulster Constabulary Special Branch and MI5 in 1972. He denied this.
Whatever the background to his move to Louth and then Dublin in 2009 it appears that aside from his weekly column in the Andersonstown News, Adams is more or less finished with the North and intent on spending the rest of his political career in the Republic - despite the 'gombeenism'.
The repeated controversies arising from Adams and the Provisional IRA look set to continue to dog his attempts at achieving power on both sides of the Border. In the years after the ceasefire SF supporters were told that there would be a united Ireland by the time of the centenary, but it has now passed.
From Adams's perspective that failed miserably and rather than take a back seat at the grandstand in O'Connell Street for the Easter ceremonies he returned to Belfast to deliver another bitter attack on corrupt 'Southern' politics to his remaining core of supporters in west Belfast.
While SF have made advances politically in the Republic it is Adams's former deputy Martin McGuinness who has made more significant gains for the party in Northern Ireland. The damage caused to the DUP leader Arlene Foster over the mishandling of the £400m (€469m) renewable energy 'cash for ash' scheme has left Sinn Fein in a strong position. It could become the biggest single party in the next Assembly elections. However, even if it did become the biggest party, the inbuilt anti-sectarian safeguards in the Assembly voting system means that any attempt by Sinn Fein to alter the constitutional and jurisidictional standing of Northern Ireland cannot be brought about without 'cross-community' support in the Assembly.
Adams's declared aim of bringing about a united Ireland in his lifetime is slipping away. The 2016 deadline was quietly dropped some years ago and Ogra Sinn Fein members are now told it will come "in their generation" at internal gatherings.
Sinn Fein in the South now faces another year with the likely expectation of further demons arising from Adams's and the IRA's past. One issue that is bound to arise is the IRA's protection of sex offenders including paedophile rapists and Mairia Cahill's as yet unrebutted claim that senior republican figures met at a Sinn Fein office in Dublin in 2006 to discuss and work out ways to hide the culprits.
That and whatever else might arise aside, none of the IRA's war crimes has yet proved significant enough for his party to make the quantum leap of disowning its IRA past.
As the Easter Rising centenary drifts away there is no threat to or questions over Adams's leadership and almost no one in the party seems ready to suggest he step aside.