Belfast Telegraph

If Gerry Adams has a 'quirky' sense of humour, why aren't IRA victims laughing

The Sinn Fein president's remorseless self-reinvention continues with a new edition of his selected writings

By Eilis O'Hanlon

Reviews of Malachi O'Doherty's new biography of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams have been mixed. That's neither here nor there. Reviews generally are.

What's interesting is that those who dislike the book have tended to base their objections to Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life on the author's alleged failure to show sufficient veneration for his subject.

They're entitled to that view as well. The 68-year-old republican leader has always been a divisive figure. It would be bizarre if he wasn't. Unanimity is unhealthy.

But the criticism is still a bit odd. Adams may feel under-appreciated, but his supporters have hardly been without a platform from which to celebrate their hero.

The man himself has enjoyed unique access to seats of power in London, Dublin and Washington for decades. He's been an MP, MLA, or TD for most of the same period. He's written more than a dozen books and thousands of newspaper articles. He's a regular contributor to TV and radio. He has 147,000 Twitter followers hanging on his every word.

Adams is many things, but voiceless isn't one of them. And he's relentlessly used all those various platforms to mount vigorous defences of his reputation.

He should be able to cope with one critical biography.

The worrying thing would be if the Sinn Fein leader was free to write his own eulogies. The even more worrying thing is that this is exactly what he does.

Gerry Adams is set for another tilt at the bestsellers list this autumn with a new edition of his Selected Writings. The book - called Never Give Up (whose first letters form an anagram of "gun", for fans of word games) - is due for publication a few weeks before his party's Ard Fheis, at which Adams has pledged to make some thrilling announcement about his future.

The publisher is the same one responsible for Gerry's My Little Book Of Tweets, whose cover depicted the west Belfast man taking a selfie with a goat; and the whimsical summary of the new book on online booksellers Amazon takes up where that one left off.

"Gerry Adams," it begins, "is known as a man of strong opinions and a quirky sense of humour."

Call me picky, but that's not what immediately comes to mind when thinking of the role he played during the last 30 years, is it?

Still, no doubt the blurb will get round to mentioning those other details soon enough.

Think again.

The new book, the write-up continues, will instead give an "insight" into his "passions, like hiking and the Antrim GAA team".

This is just getting silly now.

It will also explore "how he became wrapped up in moments of history, both in Ireland and abroad".

That makes it sound almost accidental, as if Adams stumbled into events while pottering about, minding his own business, a bit like that man who went along to the BBC for a job interview and mistakenly found himself being questioned live on air as an internet expert. Not wanting to make a fuss, he decided to go along with it.

Adams seems to want us to believe that stuff just keeps happening to him, too, despite all his best efforts.

Strangest of all, Never Give Up even promises to offer Adams's personal reflections on "some very turbulent times in Gerry's life, such as his move from west Belfast to Co Louth". Say what?

There's a test known as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, which ranks life events according to the amount of pressure they put on an individual. Divorce and the death of a partner come right at the top, closely followed by imprisonment, personal illness and losing a job.

Nowhere does it mention moving 50 miles down the road to take up a highly paid job as an elected representative. Oh, the horrors which the struggle for Irish freedom have inflicted on the poor dear.

Gerry Adams is a writer, so he knows the importance of words, and "turbulent" is quite a strong one to use in this context.

Nor can Amazon be blamed for the description. They have better things to do than write blurbs for upcoming books. They simply print whatever guff the publisher sends them and publishers don't sign off on a final version without getting the author's approval first, so this must represent the one-sided picture which Adams is happy to paint of his life.

It's one in which moving house is "turbulent", but IRA atrocities are merely "counterproductive".

Indeed, those three little letters "IRA" appear nowhere in the advance publicity for his new book. The funeral of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro gets a mention, but not the thousands of funerals in Northern Ireland as a direct result of the Troubles.

Likewise, there's plenty about his love of hurling, but not one word about the years during which Adams maintained a relationship with his brother, even helping him get a job at a youth centre, despite being told by Liam's daughter that she'd been horrifically abused by her father as a child.

"I realised it was all about PR and protecting his image," Aine Adams said about the moment when she finally stopped believing Gerry's pledges to help her and went to the police instead.

That's it in a nutshell. Everything Adams says and does is about "protecting his image" and this book will clearly be no exception.

He's been playing the game for years now, buttering up interviewers with stories about how, for example, he supposedly met the soldier who beat him up in jail and how they "shook hands and had a wee laugh about it".

It's funny in one way, because how fragile does a man's ego have to be that he seeks to micro-manage his public persona to this obsessive extent?

In other ways, it's far from amusing. The whimsicality and storytelling are simply the lighter end of the spectrum that leads to the deliberate distortion of the past. Sentimentality and authoritarianism have always gone hand-in-hand.

No other politician, even ones without murky secrets, would get away with constantly editing their memories in this way, but Gerry Adams goes on being indulged. He's not even underhanded about it. It's blatant.

Ire is reserved, instead, for others, such as Malachi O'Doherty, who aren't bowled over by the trappings of celebrity, but dare to peep behind the mask. Someone with a "quirky" sense of humour would probably find that funny.

But IRA victims aren't laughing.

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