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So much mud now sticking to Gerry Adams that Sinn Fein circling of wagons may be futile exercise

By Liam Clarke

Published 25/10/2014

Abuse survivor Mairia Cahill speaking to the media at Government Buildings, Dublin, before her meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Abuse survivor Mairia Cahill speaking to the media at Government Buildings, Dublin, before her meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Gerry Adams speaks to the media outside Government Buildings in Dublin
Liam Adams

When it comes to the Sinn Fein president, Mairia Cahill doesn't mince her words.

"Once Gerry admits that I am telling the truth I am quite prepared to meet him, but I would want that meeting recorded. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him," she told me last night.

This is a complicated case, and Gerry Adams denies some of Ms Cahill's claims, but the politics are simple enough - no party leader wants to go into an election cycle being accused of lying about an alleged rape.

Most people are finding the 33-year-old a compelling witness.

Ms Cahill's case is that a leading republican from west Belfast raped her in 1997 as she lay sleeping. He denies the claims.

Aged just 16, she alleges that the abuse continued for a year against her will.

The case collapsed because of a lack of evidence when a number of witnesses - including Ms Cahill - withdrew their statements.

She raised her allegation through her cousin Siobhan O'Hanlon and her uncle Joe Cahill, two senior IRA figures, and eventually met Mr Adams.

What he said to her is in dispute.

He has consistently denied her claim that he told her some abusers were so manipulative that the victims actually enjoyed the abuse.

"The recent allegations made by Mairia Cahill are of serious concern to myself and Sinn Fein," Mr Adams wrote in his Leargas blogspot last Sunday.

"While I refute completely Mairia's allegations against myself and Sinn Fein, it does raise the significant issue of how allegations of abuse had been handled in the past by republicans."

This is the sort of argument that no political party wants to have with a young woman and Mr Adams' attempts to explain are being laughed at by other political players. Mr Adams is currently riding high in the opinion polls and there is no sign that he will do anything but top the poll next time around in his North Louth constituency.

His problem is with the other parties. Sinn Fein will not be in government in the Republic unless one of the rival parties agrees to enter coalition with it.

Coalition with Sinn Fein is a gamble, given the party's recent links to the IRA.

In the Republic, though, most of Sinn Fein's leadership has had no serious allegations of IRA involvement made against them. The main exception is Mr Adams, who denies ever being in the organisation.

The fact that so few people believe his denial is a blow to his credibility. More than that, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour have all been in government recently enough to know that the security forces north and south believe Mr Adams was a leading member of the Provisional IRA, and before that the Official IRA, since the late 1960s.

After a run of around half-a-century in politics most leaders develop baggage and have rumours about them. For most politicians it might be allegations of sexual indiscretion, cronyism or abuse of the planning system.

For Mr Adams the allegations are far more toxic.

Brendan Hughes, an IRA leader and friend of Mr Adams until the mid-1980s, accused Mr Adams of arranging the disappearance of Jean McConville, a widowed mother-of-10 snatched from her home in Belfast, murdered and secretly buried in Co Louth.

Mr Adams denies any involvement in the widow's killing and called Mr Hughes a liar. The same goes for Dolours Price, another IRA leader, who backed Mr Hughes up and added accusations of her own.

Both IRA members are now dead but others have, like them, deposited taped testimonies in Boston College which the police are currently trying to get hold of through the courts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Potential coalition partners also don't know what else could come down the line from other disgruntled ex-members.

Richard O'Rawe, a former Sinn Fein PRO and IRA prisoner, has accused a committee headed by Gerry Adams of prolonging the 1981 hunger strike for political purposes.

Again, it is all denied, but the accusation that prisoners - up to six of them - died after being kept in ignorance of an offer that could have ended the strike, is a toxic one.

The claims that Liam Adams, Gerry Adams' brother, was moved around the country following accusations of child abuse are equally corrosive.

Liam Adams is now preparing his appeal after being sentenced to jail for abusing his daughter Aine. This is another issue that could jump up and bite Gerry Adams, if either Liam or Aine decide to speak. The list could go on. The potential scandals and awkward questions which could beset Gerry Adams in government are of a different order than those facing any other politician in the Republic.

Alternative southern Sinn Fein leaders like Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty are well distanced from the years of violence and would pose no such challenges for a potential coalition partner.

For the present, Sinn Fein is circling the wagons around its leader but that may not last.

In the end, democratic politics are about gaining and exercising power and a leader is of no use unless he can contribute to that goal. Mr Adams is a vote winner north and south and a poll topper in Louth. His problems are that on the crucial question of getting into government, he is a liability.

The only way to defend him is to attack Ms Cahill, and that is bringing Sinn Fein, a party trying to increase its vote among women with female-friendly policies, into danger.

Bloggers out to defend Sinn Fein are, Ms Cahill says, accusing her of being "everything from an MI6 agent to being out to undermine Gerry Adams".

One troll also suggested that she might have "fancied" her alleged abuser and had carried out a "year-long consensual relationship" with him, even though he himself denies this.

Behind the scenes other people are saying they were also abused by republicans and silenced by IRA inquiries.

To get power Sinn Fein badly needs a leader to whom none of this mud will stick. That means someone younger than Mr Adams.

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