Gerry Adams has led Sinn Fein for the past 30 years without challenge. For international audiences in particular he is the face of the republican party. His republican background is impeccable, with both paternal and maternal lines steeped in that tradition. His influence on politics on this island has been enormous. Sinn Fein is the largest nationalist party in Northern Ireland and a very significant player in the Republic.
Adams is a man who has always managed to deflect past criticism, either by insinuating that those making allegations against him were ill or by downright denial, even when – as with his insistence that he was never in the IRA – such denial is met with outright incredulity. But this time he stands condemned out of his own mouth over his conduct. In 2000 his brother Liam admitted he had sexually abused his own daughter but it took Gerry nine years to relay that confession to police.
He allowed his brother to work with children's groups on both sides of the border at times during the intervening years and did not shun him as he later claimed.
Adams may not be unduly worried that former hunger striker, Gerard Hodgins, has called for him to resign from the Bobby Sands Trust – which holds the copyright on all of Sands' writings – because of the lack of support for his abused niece. And it may seem a strange demand given Adams' much more prominent and pivotal roles in the wider political sphere. But he just cannot dismiss it out of hand. There must be many people within the republican movement who share Mr Hodgins views that Adams acted in a shameful way.
The abuse of his niece transcends politics. All right thinking people are appalled by sexual abuse of children. The Catholic Church, an institution infinitely more powerful than the republican movement, has been humbled in Ireland because of its attempted cover-up of clerical abuse of children.
Adams has no valid excuse for not showing stronger support for his niece and he cannot hide from his own confessions. This is unlikely to be the only resignation demand that he faces in the coming weeks. The real interest will be if they come from within the ranks of the wider republican movement.