Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Gerry Adams playing well in the US, but not Ireland

Liability: Gerry Adams
Liability: Gerry Adams

Is Gerry Adams a liability to Sinn Fein? You wouldn't think it if you went to New York's Sheraton Towers, where wealthy patrons are paying $500 a plate to meet Mr Adams and help "Celebrate the Success of the Irish Peace Process and help Sinn Fein in Building a New and United Ireland".

He plays well at such big events across the Atlantic. History may also judge him with a long lens, seeing his success in steering the IRA towards the end of its long war and letting accusations about the Disappeared and his role in relation to the child-abuse committed by his brother Liam fade into softer focus.

It has happened with other republicans, for instance Frank Aiken, who murdered Protestants, including seven civilians at Altnaveigh, as part of the 1920 IRA campaign in south Armagh.

History records that, but he is chiefly remembered as Fianna Fail cabinet minister and UN peace-builder.

Adams is now, like Aiken before him, a poll-topper in North Louth. History may well focus on his positive achievements.

It is too soon to tell, but here in the close focus of the Dail and Stormont, he is the party's Achilles heel. Few take anything he says at face value.

On Tuesday, Edwin Poots, the DUP health minister, used Mr Adams to distract attention from Sinn Fein questioning on Mr Poots' ban on gay men giving blood.

Willie Hay, the Speaker, warned Mr Poots about calling Mr Adams a "paedophile-protecting president", but the diversionary tactic probably worked. Adams is a gift to other parties.

It was the same story in the Dail, where the focus was on the Disappeared. Sinn Fein is riding high in the polls, but TV allegations from former IRA comrades that Mr Adams authorised secret burials are damaging. Mr Adams denied wrongdoing, but neither government nor opposition leader took him seriously.

Mr Adams may well have a role as an international ambassador and fundraiser, even as some sort of president emeritus. But leading his party into a crucial election in 2016 is more problematic.

After years of austerity, this is a big chance for Sinn Fein to win seats in Dublin's next collation government.

As the party considers its options, it must realise that Mr Adams will be a liability in TV debates and other parties won't want him as a partner in government.

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