Why Adams and police must both come clean on abuse allegations
Published 22/01/2010 | 09:00
'Nobody is offering up their suffering for the cause any more. Why should they, when the cause has now been abandoned?
Herein lies the connection between the close of armed struggle and the opening out of secret memories of abuse.
None of the women who have come forward in recent weeks will have made this or any other political calculation before deciding to tell their stories.
What is relevant is that the fierce sense of communal solidarity which the republican movement was able to surround itself with during the years of armed struggle has frayed.
As talks proceed towards completion of a settlement which will leave Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom for as far forward as anyone can see, the duty of omerta fades.
The imminent publication of Brendan Hughes's memoirs can be taken as confirmation that the old rules of embattlement no longer apply.
The vast majority in the North — including a vast majority of those defining themselves as nationalist — devoutly welcomed the end of the IRA's armed struggle. But the legacy of the struggle, of loss and pain endured, cannot easily or at all be sloughed off.
In many instances, it was those who were closest to the struggle who both suffered most and are most likely now to feel aggrieved and let down.
There is a dynamic at work here with ominous implications for the republican movement.
That said, the depiction of Gerry Adams as a presiding genius coolly ignoring the abuse of children to protect the reputation of the movement, is inaccurate and wildly unfair. It focuses on the person while ignoring the political context which alone can explain the actions and inactions concerned.
It needs to be said, too, that some seem so anxious to get Adams they are content to let the police off the hook.
Arguably the most serious allegation to emerge from the sickening morass came from the mother of the woman allegedly raped by the SF president's brother.
When her daughter made contact with the RUC, she has claimed, they seemed “more interested in recruiting her as an informer than dealing with (her) abuser”.
Let us imagine for a moment that it had been in Doncaster or Birmingham, not in Belfast, that police were said to have responded to a woman reporting that she'd been the victim of incestuous rape, not with care and assurance that they'd do all in their power to bring the perpetrator to justice, but with an attempt to persuade her to spy on a violent local organisation.
Would this story not be the lead item on Newsnight, the Home Secretary pummelled by Paxman to explain how such outrageous behaviour could have come about? Would the media not be abuzz with demands for a judicial inquiry and heads to roll? Would the police officers concerned not already be suspended pending the outcome of a high-level investigation? But here, next to nothing.
The claimed response of the police to the rape report in Belfast will have strengthened Sinn Fein at the time in arguing that such matters were better left to the movement. In the republican perspective, there was a war on.
To invite combatants of the other side, the police, into the affairs of the community was to weaken the war effort.
And the war, in this view, was a noble enterprise, the culmination of centuries of struggle for an Ireland united and free.
It was to this shining vision that self-sacrifice was offered. The most frequently-quoted maxim in the republican lexicon came from from Terence McSwiney, the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike in Brixton in 1920: “It is not those who can inflict the most suffering but those who can endure the most who will conquer.”
For as long as the war could be presented as delivering the community from all past oppression, republican supporters felt able to put up with the most harrowing of circumstances, and to accept clumsy, inadequate and worse ways of handling the most difficult and distressing of personal problems.
One of the abuse cases at the centre of the current controversies happened in Ardoyne, where, in 1995, Gerry Adams advised an audience not to report abuse cases to the RUC but to avail themselves instead of ‘counsellors’ supplied by the republican movement.
Sinn Fein had a network of such ‘counsellors’ across the North. Few had qualifications or relevant experience.
Their largest case-load concerned ‘wife-beating’, as it was then commonly called. On occasion, they dealt also with serious cases of physical and sexual abuse, including child abuse.
‘Dealt with’ as best they could, which often was not very well.
The cases recently publicised raise serious questions, most importantly because, far from being isolated instances, they were not untypical. The reason Gerry Adams finds himself in the firing line is not — even if everything alleged against him turns out to be true — that he behaved in a particularly reprehensible way but that he behaved in a perfectly representative way. It was the way republicans did things at the time.
It is right that Gerry Adams and all others with questionable roles in these events — including and most importantly the police — should be called to account.
But we also need a political accounting.