Gerry Adams would rather praise fanatics than respect democrats
What irks the Sinn Fein leader is that former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave did his duty and defended the Republic against the IRA
There's a psychological theory that holds the faults we most strongly criticise in other people are those of which, deep down, we know ourselves to be guilty.
It's remarkable how often politicians conform to the rule. Consider the latest comments by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who declared in the Dail last week that former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, who has died at the age of 97, had been a "controversial and divisive figure".
To say that this was stunning in its lack of irony or self-awareness would be to take understatement to a whole new level.
Adams even narrowed it down further, to proclaim that Cosgrave had been a divisive figure "during turbulent and controversial periods of our history", by which he presumably meant the 1970s, when the Fine Gael leader served as Taoiseach. Cue the collective sound of jaws hitting the floor.
If Cosgrave was "divisive" in the worst days of the Troubles, what does that make Gerry Adams?
He denies being a member of the IRA, for what little that's worth, but the republican movement of which he was part - and whose role his party still stoutly defends - was hardly a force for understanding and togetherness.
The term during which Cosgrave was Taoiseach, 1973 to 1977, include four of the five worst years for violence. In 1973, 253 people were murdered. In 1974, there were 294 victims. In 1975, it was 258. In 1976, the total was 295, including 207 civilians.
For Adams to feel that he has the moral authority to accuse anyone of being "controversial and divisive" in that era beggars belief.
Any politician's legacy is fair game for criticism. Cosgrave can be held accountable for failing to secure justice for victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, as well as for the failed attempt to prosecute the Irish Press for its coverage of the mistreatment of republican prisoners. To admit that this was not his government's finest hour is absolutely not the same as supporting the Provos.
Cosgrave, likewise, could be criticised for taking what many would regard as a reactionary Catholic stance on matters such as contraception. No Taoiseach's record is unblemished.
But his was also the government which signed the Sunningdale Agreement, which instituted the first power-sharing assembly in Northern Ireland. He mishandled the aftermath, but to call any man who has Sunningdale on his record "divisive" is galling in the extreme, not least when this was the template ultimately accepted - a long litany of deaths later - by the republican movement in the form of the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
Adams naturally qualified his remarks by saying that Cosgrave was divisive "for some people", as if it wasn't the SF leader who was saying these things, but nebulous folk, whose comments he was picking up in the ether and merely relaying to the Dail like a human radio transmitter. He also said "today is not the day to analyse this". Then why bring it up at all?
Of course it is not possible to be in politics without dividing opinion. The mildest mannered of politicians will attract an army of enemies and critics.
There's also nothing wrong with speaking ill of the dead. Sometimes the dead deserve to have ill spoken of them. It is sentimentality to imagine that death should immediately absolve a human being of all fault. Had Adams wanted to lay into the former Taoiseach, he would have been perfectly entitled to do so. It was the sly, passive-aggressive way in which he phrased his disapproval - disingenuously opening up a debate by raising what "some people say", only to immediately shut it down before the end of the very same sentence with "but today is not the day" - that was most repellent, typical of his intellectual dishonesty. It's like creeping up on an opponent, sneaking in a punch, then immediately holding out a hand and asking to be friends.
Adams offered his condolences to Cosgrave's family, which was the least one might expect, as well as telling Fine Gael that they could be rightly proud of their former leader - not that they needed his permission for that. But his condolences were mechanical when compared not only with what he said when Cuban dictator Fidel Casto died, but also with how he spoke after former DUP leader Ian Paisley's death in 2014.
Adams said at the time that he was "shocked and saddened to learn of the death" of the loyalist firebrand, calling it a "very sad time."
Quite why he was shocked by the death of an 88-year-old man who had been suffering ill health for some time is a bit of a mystery, but his words were notably warmer, more affectionate.
The late Martin McGuinness also expressed his "deep regret and sadness" at the news, adding: "I have lost a friend." Neither man was foolish enough to think they could get away without acknowledging they'd not exactly been singing from the same hymn sheet as Paisley throughout the course of the Troubles, but they were markedly more positive. And this was for a man who had stoked vicious sectarian tension in Northern Ireland for decades; a Protestant hate-preacher in the mould of Islamist clerics Abu Hamza or Abu Qatada - old men who love to send out young men to die on their behalf. Innocent men, women and children died because of Paisley's words, but he was showered with sycophantic flattery on his death.
Paisley's legacy included fierce opposition to the Sunningdale agreement Cosgrave helped to negotiate, and which loyalists, spurred on by "Big Ian", brought down, sparking two further decades of bloodshed. He was also a man who was obsessed with sodomy and campaigned against homosexuality to the end, a fact also politely glossed-over by SF, despite now threatening not to restore devolved government in the North unless same-sex marriage is legalised. It didn't stop them sharing power with Paisley.
The truth is that mentally, Gerry Adams still lives in West Belfast. He doesn't really know or understand what men like Cosgrave were all about. To republicans, Cosgrave is just one of a list of Free Staters who "failed" the North, by which they mean he didn't get behind the IRA as every true Irishman should. They think the tough anti-terrorist legislation he was willing to enact against the IRA was a betrayal, when it was about securing the Republic against anarchy.
That was Cosgrave's duty as Taoiseach, but they ultimately feel more solidarity with fanatics such as Paisley - who threw themselves into the seething maelstrom of civic conflict then mellowed in old age - to boring constitutionalists such as Cosgrave. Paisley's path echoed their own. Cosgrave was alien. They prefer fellow slow-learners, because they feel less judged by them. Those who behaved badly during the Troubles don't want those who behaved well reminding them of their moral shortcomings.
There might also be another reason. Former Labour minister Conor Cruise O'Brien, who served as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs under Cosgrave, once said: "Liam always sounded like a man who felt it would be extremely sinful to give the public what it wants."
To shameless populists such as Gerry Adams, who would say and do practically anything to further his ends, that will always be the gravest sin.