Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Public figures must demand action if we are going to force abusers like Liam Adams out of the undergrowth

Gerry Adams has been criticised for withholding Liam Adams' confession of abuse from police for nine years, taking inadequate steps to protect children in youth centres where his brother worked, and making untrue statements about Liam's role in Sinn Fein.
Aine Adams, the daughter of Liam Adams
Aine Adams, the daughter of Liam Adams
Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams speaking to the media at Leinster House, the day after his brother Liam was found guilty of of a string of child sex abuse charges
Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams speaking to the media at Leinster House, the day after his brother Liam was found guilty of of a string of child sex abuse charges

The only person whose opinion really matters is Aine. The rest is noise. She is the one who was repeatedly abused by her father as a child and who has only now, at the age of 40, received justice as Liam, brother of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, is convicted in a Belfast court.

She was, however, only given a supporting role in Gerry Adams' original statement, released on Tuesday night, when he declared: "This has been a difficult and distressing ordeal for all my family and for my niece, Aine."

Speaking to reporters later in Dublin, the TD for Louth admitted that it had been a difficult time "especially for Aine", but even then she was mentioned second behind his "very large family".

He seems to forget that there's a good reason why the national guidelines on the protection and welfare of abuse victims are titled "Children First".

Of course, it's important not to make the same mistake that the RUC did when Aine initially went to them with her story. She told the court that, at the time, they were more interested in using it to gain leverage over the Sinn Fein leader than they were in her ordeal. Doing the same thing now wouldn't be putting the victim first either, especially when it has also been decided that Gerry Adams will not face prosecution for withholding information about his brother's crimes.

But there was something unseemly about his plea to the press last week to be given "respect and space and privacy" to "come to terms with" what had happened.

For Aine and the wider family, certainly. For himself? That's not a realistic or reasonable expectation.

Adams is leader of a party which has easily vaulted over Labour as the main party on the Left in the Republic. Sinn Fein is only a few points behind Fine Gael and Adams has high hopes of becoming Tanaiste after the next election. Any errors of judgment made by the party leader matter enormously, not least when Sinn Fein has – whether by design or neglect – allowed him to become synonymous with the party.

The evidence is irrefutable by now. Despite claiming to believe from the start that his brother was a child-abuser, Adams allowed him to work with young people in Dundalk and Belfast.

Despite claiming to be estranged from his brother after hearing Aine's story, he was also photographed smiling and happy at Liam's subsequent wedding, and they were in contact in other ways.

He also admitted changing his original statement to the police to include the fact that his brother had privately confessed to the abuse. Now we know he approached police to change his statement only after being contacted by UTV, which was making a programme about Aine's ordeal.

It's hard to see a demand now for "privacy and space" as anything other than a self-serving political ploy to avoid answering legitimate questions. That's not exactly a new feature of Adams' interactions with reality either.

Slipperiness and deceit have long been part of his make-up. Sinn Fein voters in Louth do not appear to mind when he uses diversionary tactics. Others are entitled to be less patient that truth always has to be extracted from him by increments, one piece at a time, under duress.

That's not about "getting" Gerry Adams, though he appears to think that it is, and his supporters – in another example of the weird symbiosis of man and party that Sinn Fein has allowed itself to become – seem happy to parrot his paranoia.

Instead, it's about stepping outside political partisanship for a moment and trying to see this impartially. If they're being honest; if he wasn't their party leader; if they didn't think he deserved enormous credit for his role in steering the IRA from violence – can Sinn Fein supporters possibly approve of how he handled this matter?

Say Gerry Adams was an ordinary Fine Gael backbencher, or still the barman that he was when the Troubles broke out, how would they regard what he has done?

We all claim these days to be in favour of mandatory reporting and to be horrified when priests and teachers do not alert authorities to errant colleagues, but Sinn Fein seems to be implying that certain people should be granted a free pass because of who they are. He even broke the party's own rules on reporting abuse. It wouldn't wash if he was running to become a councillor for his local area, never mind Tanaiste.

Even on a purely human level, what Adams said last week was wrong. Victims should come first at all times.

What happened to Aine is the tip of the iceberg. The Troubles allowed the sexual abuse of women and girls by paramilitaries to continue under the radar for decades.

A grand-niece of IRA veteran Joe Cahill has spoken vividly about her struggle to be heard and cared for after she was raped as a teenager by a senior republican. That man is alleged to have been responsible for the abuse of more young girls at the time.

Her failure to get proper help from Gerry Adams is on record too. "It was pointless," she has said. "I was getting nowhere." She eventually left the movement in despair.

As in any closed, hierarchical organisation, those with power and status were able to use it to procure victims and then keep their accusers silent – and they were disgracefully assisted in that by a policing and justice system which, in the midst of conflict, put abuse victims at the lowest rung of the ladder.

At least one senior loyalist has also been jailed for sex offences against young girls. On either side of the peace wall, more nasty secrets are undoubtedly waiting to emerge. The only reason we know about these particular cases is because a few victims have bravely waived their right to anonymity.

What it needs now is for other women, and male victims too, to be encouraged to come forward and tell their stories. Sinn Fein seems to be trying to deal with sexual abuse allegations the same way that the church did: one at a time, to be neatly wrapped up and filed away, before quietly moving on and hoping the issue is done and dusted.

Child abuse needs a truth-recovery process every bit as thorough as the one proposed for paramilitary and State violence.

The only course of action for any responsible public figure is to put all political interests aside and call instead for more action and more investigation. Justice finally caught up with Liam Adams, but there are still far too many abusers hiding in the undergrowth.

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