Belfast Telegraph

Gerry Adams is the ultimate OTR who's fleeing from truth

The Sinn Fein chief remains on-the-run; spending decades trying to stay one step ahead of his accusers. But as Gerry Adams felt the chill wind of the US administration's anger this week, is he finally running out of places to hide, asks Eilis O'Hanlon

A satirical picture doing the rounds on social media this week showed President Obama with his head in his hands as he faced the prospect of spending another St Patrick's Day in the company of the Irish Taoiseach.

Global outbreaks of Paddywackery being what they are this time of year, one can only sympathise; but it would surely be closer to the truth if American politicians responded that way to Gerry Adams.

It's now 21 years since the Sinn Fein leader got that famous invitation to spend Ireland's national holiday with Bill Clinton at the White House - and, at that stage, Adams was already into his 11th year as party leader.

There can never have been a time when his authority has looked shakier, however. Even in America, which has always been the political equivalent of a safe house for Adams, and where the party which presents itself as radical at home routinely fills the coffers by schmoozing shamelessly with the great and good, from Hollywood to big business.

Part of the disquiet comes from an essay in the New Yorker magazine on Adams' murky past as an IRA leader, including allegations that he was responsible for ordering the disappearance of Jean McConville and also for instigating an IRA bombing campaign on civilian targets in London.

Irish-American supporters might callously regard the casualties of the Troubles as mere collateral damage of what they still regard as a holy war for a united Ireland, but that doesn't mean they want to be reminded of the grim details.

Certainly not when republicans are also under fire for presiding over the systematic cover up of child abuse in their ranks.

The Sinn Fein president is now facing questions about his handling of child abuse for the third time in two years. The first concerned his own brother, Liam, who, by Adams' own testimony, admitted, during a walk in the rain in 2000, to abusing his daughter, Aine, a fact omitted from Gerry's first statement to police. The second was the abuse of Mairia Cahill by a senior republican, which saw her hauled before an IRA kangaroo court.

Now there is a third scandal around the rape of Co Louth man Paudie McGahon as a teenager at his family residence, which was being used as an IRA safe house for on-the-run volunteers.

That was brought to Sinn Fein's, and subsequently Adams' own, attention. Again, everyone involved failed to take it further. This is not some unfortunate coincidence. It's a pattern.

Sinn Fein has tried repeatedly to neutralise and contain the damage, but the scandal shows no sign of going away. That's a double-edged compliment to how seriously they're being taken now as a potential party of government in Dublin as Ireland's continuing economic malaise swells the ranks of voters itching to give a bloody nose to a political establishment which imposed austerity.

When Sinn Fein was a marginal opposition party, with little prospect of power, these things could be brushed off as the activities of a creepy and dysfunctional paramilitary gang. What else would one expect other than that they would use their muscle to make problems "go away"?

For politicians who may, within months, have their hands on the files in the Republic's Department of Justice, it becomes a different matter to still behave more like a clandestine paramilitary organisation than a normal democratic party.

The prospect of power in Dublin is what now drives Sinn Fein's every waking moment, but it's hard to brush off these scandals as unfortunate remnants of an ugly past when there's another remnant of an ugly past still esconced at the top of the party.

Adams was never a "hands-off" leader. He was the spider in the centre of the web and he knew every quiver of the threads. Now he is reduced to playing dumb and the act is both unconvincing and offensive.

"He would say that, wouldn't he?" is the knowing response of many when Adams denies IRA membership. There are plenty of excuses as to why he'd do that. It's less defensible for Adams and others not to come clean on what they know about the internal investigation, and subsequent movement, of known child abusers.

His attempts to insist that he has given all the information he has to the relevant authorities clearly isn't working, but Adams' own character makes it impossible for Sinn Fein to deal with this problem effectively.

Recognising that their initial hostility to Mairia Cahill has damaged them in the Republic, where the equivalent cover-up of abuse by the Catholic Church caused huge trauma, some Sinn Fein figures have noticeably attempted to soften the line towards Mairia Cahill.

Adams, however, seems either unable or unwilling to go along with this. In an interview calling on victims to come forward, he diluted the message by blatantly not mentioning Mairia Cahill.

Paudie was a victim. Others were victims. But towards Mairia, there is still no weakening of the hardline position from Adams.

This resentful stubbornness is damaging other potential future leaders of Sinn Fein, who are being tainted by repeatedly having to back up their leader; but Adams' instinct is always to go on the offensive when criticised, entirely the wrong tactic when dealing with a sensitive issue such as child abuse. It might have worked if bullying Mairia had discouraged other victims from coming forward; but it didn't.

This week, Gerry Adams has been through the gamut of his usual responses to criticism. Aggression - check. Sulking, declaring that it was "no skin off my nose" when it looked as if the State Department might have cancelled a meeting - check. Retreating into fantasy - check.

Under pressure, Adams always resorts to fairy-tales which paint republicans as victims rather than perpetrators, underdogs rather than overlords.

Recently, he's taken to refining that image with large dollops of whimsy, too, even tweeting "choo choo choo" as he travelled by train in America this week.

These are all essentially childish, indeed childlike, responses, but they're typical of Adams. They're also walls.

Consistently, when confronted with trouble, Gerry withdraws behind them, because his greatest fear is that he will be found out.

Exposed. Laid psychologically bare.

There's no greater anguish for such a deeply secretive man. He is, in effect, hiding. In plain sight, as it happens, but hiding all the same.

In many ways, Gerry Adams is the ultimate OTR. He's been fleeing from the truth for decades, constantly trying to stay one step away from disclosure.

The problem for him is that, politically and symbolically, he's fast running out of safe houses in which to take shelter.

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