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Gerry Adams now exudes a palpable air of menace

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Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams

It wasn't so much that you had to be there, but you definitely had to see it, that fascinating debate in Leinster House last week on the horrendous ordeal of Mairia Cahill and other young innocent victims at the hands of the IRA.

Many of you were at work or just out, or doing something else, when it was televised live. And you probably relied on the RTE six o'clock or nine o'clock news to convey the drama. You would have been disappointed. In fact, you were probably left wondering what all the fuss was about. Why were those who saw it talking about how gripping it was, how important it was, how it made them proud for a change to be a democrat in Ireland in 2014? The news bulletins gave you the barest details - not much more than the fact that Enda had given out about Sinn Fein on the issue of moving sex abusers south of the border, Gerry Adams had responded and rejected the charge, and unless someone can come up with some new information, that's the end of the matter. Another one for the cold case file.

What was not conveyed was the cold fury that Enda displayed, the honest emotion of Micheal Martin and the courage and conviction of Regina Doherty, who was brave enough to say she was afraid. And then the massive contrast with the cynical brass neck of Gerry Adams, who meandered through a prepared speech - prepared in advance so that none of the charges against him and his fellows could be addressed - giving the usual did-nothing, know-nothing excuses.

He departed briefly to let the deputies in the other parties know that they needn't think he was going to forget this. The air of menace around the Sinn Fein leader is becoming more and more palpable. His threat-that-is-not-a-threat to have people go in and smash the presses of Independent Newspapers has slightly unnerved some people. Now, it is the turn of our elected representatives. Mr Adams assured the members of Dail Eireann attacking him and Sinn Fein - Government and Opposition - that this time, it's personal.

These are extraordinary times. It is extraordinary that an opposition leader whose party has more popularity in a national opinion poll than any other, would joke about smashing freedom of expression. It is extraordinary that journalists on a national newspaper have to lock themselves inside their offices just to do their job; it is extraordinary that a Government deputy would have to tell the House that she was unable to publicly expose sexual predators out of fear of retaliation; that another deputy admits he has been threatened with physical harm; and that the security services have to take seriously threats to harm the Taoiseach.

This is not normal politics. But you would not know it if RTE News and Current Affairs was your only source of information. Yes, they go through the motions of telling you what the Taoiseach said and what the leader of the Opposition said. And Prime Time gave a perfunctory nod to the Mairia Cahill story but then only when it was unavoidable.

However, more often than not, it is the Sinn Fein leader or his deputy, Mary Lou McDonald, who manage to get in front of the cameras or the microphones first, and always with their own self-serving agenda which they stick to rigidly. They will talk all day about the evils of clerical sex abuse, but don't ask them to discuss the vile deeds of their IRA fellow-travellers who defiled children and were then facilitated in escaping the consequences. Different time, different place, says Sinn Fein. Or don't ask them to talk about the fate and families of the euphemistically titled 'Disappeared'. Again, this was all in the past and nobody remembers the details, and anyway, we were all to blame.

Mary Lou would prefer to move on to a much safer topic like the latest Ansbacher allegations. I know Ansbacher is from the past too, but this is different. This isn't a Sinn Fein scandal, as far as we know, so it is safe territory to venture back into. Or she will bring the Dail to a halt for an afternoon to try to make us forget the powerful occasion that was the previous day, and at the same time persuade those angry about water charges that Sinn Fein cares more about them than the elected Independent deputies.

Given how few questions Sinn Fein was willing to answer about Mairia Cahill, Mary Lou had some nerve to pull this stunt on the basis of not getting answers to her own questions. But so what if this affects the credibility of the institutions of the State? What's the big deal about Gerry Adams saying he has no confidence in the Ceann Comhairle? It's not that long since he didn't recognise the existence of the Republic itself or its right to convene the Houses of the Oireachtas of which he is now happy to be a member.

I don't believe there is an agenda in RTE, I think there is just a tiredness, a world weariness, an attitude of having seen it all. And not everyone is infected.

But when they talk about the body of Brendan Megraw being found, why was it felt there was no need to mention that he was murdered by the IRA before being 'disappeared'? There's an automatic assumption that everybody already knows that. Certainly Sinn Fein won't complain. Or when Mary Lou McDonald comes on Morning Ireland to talk about last Tuesday's sex abuse debate, she gets a perfect start from Cathal Mac Coille, who refers to much of the discussion as "rhetoric", and not in a good way.

But these are dangerous times. Endangering the freedom of the Press, intimidating those who represent us in the Dail, terrorising the Tanaiste and threatening the Taoiseach's safety - these are serious matters. Our democracy cannot afford to have them viewed through a haze of ennui.

Sunday Independent