Pressure on Gerry Adams grows as attempts to justify n-word sparks further scorn at home and abroad
Left to face media alone, SF chief cuts increasingly isolated figure as his own party fail to defend him while rival leaders seize on his gaffe, accusing him of lack of judgment
Gerry Adams appeared increasingly isolated last night as the furore over his use of the n-word intensified.
First Minister Arlene Foster claimed Mr Adams' mask had "slipped again", while even Sinn Fein seemed reluctant to publicly back him.
The row erupted after Mr Adams posted the racial slur in a tweet comparing the plight of slaves in the United States to the treatment of Irish nationalists.
He apologised yesterday, but still tried to justify the parallels by saying his use of the word was ironic and not intended to offend.
Criticism of the Sinn Fein president continued last night and unusually, no senior figure from the party flanked Mr Adams as he issued an apology outside party headquarters in west Belfast.
Sinn Fein vice-president Mary Lou McDonald tweeted: "Gerry was wrong to use that offensive term. He has fully acknowledged that and apologised."
Just four days before the Assembly election, there was renewed questioning of Mr Adams' political judgment.
Mrs Foster said Sinn Fein faced a massive test of leadership. "How Sinn Fein deals with Adams and this outrageous tweet is as big a test for Sinn Fein as the test facing the Labour Party in dealing with anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn. A half-hearted apology will not suffice," she said.
"Gerry Adams' mask has slipped again. To compare slavery in America to the life of anyone in Northern Ireland is utterly ridiculous and offensive to those who suffered in slavery.
"If Adams is concerned about the treatment of Catholics in Northern Ireland, it would do him well to remember that in my lifetime, no one murdered more Catholics than the Provisional IRA. Yet, Adams continues to justify the PIRA campaign.
"This is not the first time the real Adams mindset has been exposed. Let's remember it was only last year when Adams called Protestants b*****ds and said he was going to break them. It has not been forgotten that Adams also refused to offer a full apology on that occasion."
In an article for today's Belfast Telegraph, Tim Brannigan, a mixed-race former republican prisoner who knows Mr Adams, said the Sinn Fein leader should know better.
"For me, and for all black people, it is never just a word, a bit of banter. It's never just a 'twitter storm'. It is real and ongoing offence."
He added: "Just as we wouldn't compare our 4,000 deaths in the Troubles to the Holocaust, we shouldn't equate the nationalist experience of life under unionism with black America. It's a question of proportionality and an awareness of the loaded meaning of words."
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness declined an opportunity to publicly support Mr Adams yesterday.
Approached at the funeral of Sister Clare Crockett in Londonderry, he would not comment on the matter at that stage.
However, speaking to the BBC, Mr McGuinness said the term was not a word he would have used himself.
He said: "I do think it was an inappropriate way of trying to make what is a valid point in terms of his very strong stance over many years against injustice and against discrimination.
"But Gerry's human, just like the rest of us - we all make mistakes."
However, in an article written for today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr McGuinness talks of the need to tackle racism.
"We need to eradicate sectarianism, racism, homophobia and bigotry and deliver equality for every one of our citizens," he said.
Sinn Fein's first African-born representative said that use of the n-word was "inappropriate".
Dublin councillor Edmond Lukusa, who was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said: "I am sure he used the word in the context of people in struggle. The use of the n-word was inappropriate but he is a good man."
Many of Mr Adams' usual online supporters failed to defend him yesterday, and there were signs that the influential Irish-American lobby were distancing themselves from him.
Mr Adams was even forced to deny he had been drinking at the time of his outburst while watching the violent Quentin Tarantino movie Django Unchained. "I was as sober as a judge," he said.
His controversial tweet was issued after he spent Sunday evening watching the Oscar-winning film in which a former black slave takes revenge against his wife's captors.
Mr Adams sought to draw a comparison between the treatment of black people in the US with the penal laws of the 19th century, partition and discrimination against Catholics in Northern Ireland in the 1960s over voting, housing and jobs.
A first tweet said: "Watching Django Unchained - A Ballymurphy N*****!"
A second message added: "Django - an uppity Fenian!"
He quickly removed the posts, but they appeared to cause panic at Sinn Fein HQ, which rushed out a press release at 2.14am in which he tried to explain his comments. In the statement Mr Adams said: "I am opposed to racism and have been all my life."
He also insisted he stood by the thrust of his remarks saying: "Don't forget I come from Ballymurphy. I know what people went through. The main point is that I stand by that."
Despite this, he faced furious criticism. The DUP's Nelson McCausland said: "We should not forget Gerry Adams' previous description of unionists as b*****ds, whom he wished to 'break'. It is also notable that he has moved to distance himself from a racist tweet within a few hours, but still can't even manage to admit that he was a member of a terrorist organisation."
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said Mr Adams had zero credibility.
"I find it extraordinary that the leader of a political party can even think to utter the words that he did," he said. "Gerry Adams has no credibility. Even some within his own party must realise that now."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused Mr Adams of "a staggering deficiency in judgment".
Stewart Dickson from Alliance said: "For anyone to use such a term is unacceptable. But for the leader of a major political party to do so simply beggars belief."
Mr Adams' comments went global within hours, with Washington newspapers among the first to pick up the story.
CNN reported that the tweet "featured the uncensored version of the racial epithet" and though swiftly deleted had left Mr Adams facing "mounting pressure".