Gerry Adams: the one we think we know
He hugs trees, he wants to talk about Jesus, he now is willing — even eager — to share the story of abuse in his family. And this week he spoke about his wife's battle with cancer. But how does this fit in with the other Gerry Adams, the one we think we know?
I was browsing around a craft shop in Dunfanaghy one day when a man leaned over towards me and, in a deep gravelly voice, said: “Hello Malachi.'' I didn't recognise him at first. He was wearing a green check shirt and a baseball cap. And by the grin on him, he seemed to enjoy taking me by surprise. He had a greying beard and bright playful eyes.
“Come on,'' said one part of my brain to another, “you know this guy.”
Then it clicked. He was Gerry Adams.
We laughed, I introduced him to Maureen, he introduced me to Colette. He made a comment on the salad bowl I was buying and then we parted, to growl at each other again another day.
But I had the uneasy feeling about Gerry that he could be a far more pleasant fellow than I had taken him for. He was clowning a bit, away from the intensity of political life in Belfast, almost signalling that we shouldn't take that side of him too seriously.
And Colette: well, she wore a slightly disdainful expression, as if she also thought we shouldn't take her husband that seriously either. I think she could see that he was testing whether he could get me to eat out of the palm of his hand and she was wishing he would concentrate on the household goods instead.
For Gerry Adams is a bit of a clown. And, it taking one to know one, that can be a bit trying for close friends and family.
We saw some of that last month during the Hillsborough talks. While the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister were making their solemn statements to the media about the need for urgent engagement, a face appeared through the gap between the doors behind them. It was Gerry Adams. Possibly he was eavesdropping but he surely didn't need to.
More likely he was just acting the lig.
And if that was inappropriate in a man with huge decisions to take, and afflicted, as we now know with a heap of family worries, then it is also strangely reassuring. We have never seen the giddy side of Peter Robinson or Reg Empey or even any of the SDLP top table, but somewhere in Gerry Adams is still a little boy.
And if that boyishness is part of the secret Adams, then so are a lot of other things that are now in the public domain.
We know that his brother Liam is accused of raping his daughter. We know that Gerry's father was a thug and a pervert and we now know also that Colette is ill and has had recent surgery for cancer.
All of these pieces of information have been eased into the public domain by Gerry Adams himself.
Without the interview that he gave to journalist Chris Moore for his Insight Special about Liam Adams, the programme would have lacked the bedrock validation that Gerry believed his niece Aine's version of his brother's conduct.
Then Gerry told Tommy Gorman on RTE about his father having abused some in the family and now he has disclosed to the party that his wife is ill.
This is uncommon candour in a man who preserves a secret past. He was the leader of the IRA in Belfast during the car bomb campaign of the early 70s and he denies — though few believe him — that he was ever in the IRA.
That secrecy about his past may be necessary to help preserve him and Sinn Fein against civil suits from victims of the IRA campaign.