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Adams telling Arlene Foster to stand down? It's high time for Gerry to be decommissioned

The president of Sinn Fein has precisely zero credibility when it comes to moralising about standards in public life, writes Malachi O'Doherty

Let us trust that Sinn Fein wants to avert a collapse of the institutions at Stormont. Let us take it as read that it is eager for viable partnership Government with the DUP, since its has worked within that partnership for nearly a decade now. Let us acknowledge that it is not hounding Arlene Foster from office, demanding her resignation as emphatically as the Ulster Unionist Party is.

Then let us allow for the possibility that it is the tactical wizard many think it to be and ask a simple question: how can it get what it wants?

It wants Arlene Foster, as First Minister, to step aside from her role in the way that Peter Robinson did under similar pressure. And it wants an investigation into the debacle of the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI), which ran out of control. It may even hope that the investigation will clear Foster, and allow her to resume her position.

These things may be true - very likely are true.

It also wants the DUP to agree with it on the establishment of an Irish Language Act, a Bill of Rights and a host of legacy issues, including a peace centre at the Maze and the funding of inquests into dubious killings by the security forces.

As much as it wants these things, it has never previously threatened to pull down the institutions if it doesn't get them. However, now, in a spirit of acrimonious deadlock, it is drawing these issues into the mix, citing them as evidence of bad faith on the part of the DUP.

Something similar is happening in the DUP.

Foster never previously claimed that her political opponents were misogynistic, trying to hound her from office because she is a woman. Sinn Fein has a long-prepared defence against that one anyway.

There is no party leader who more enjoys being surrounded by women than Gerry Adams. No other party has appointed as many women to senior positions, including Executive seats.

But things are getting nasty.

Foster hisses one jibe and Adams, in his latest missive, hisses back the old familiar: "You bigot!"

And neither is getting what they would sensibly want, which is a resolution of this stand-off, avoiding an election, which won't solve the problem.

Foster ignores the fact that other unionists, Alliance and the SDLP have lost confidence in her, and lights on Sinn Fein as the problem.

Sinn Fein, with a record of long support for murder and indulgence of bank robbery, is kind of ill-equipped to claim the moral high ground here.

That is what DUP supporters are saying.

Here are some of the messages of support on Foster's Facebook page: "Anything Sinn Fein is for, I'm against." "She's way too clever for the likes of them!" "Hang on in there, Arlene. They don't like it up them! lol." "RHI scheme is scandalous, but if we have to accept the IRA heinous murderers/liars, how can we condemn any other politician that is elected and has a mandate?"

This isn't the single, coherent message from her support base. It's clear from social media that the base is divided. But it is an argument that reinforces the party's resistance to pressure.

And for Sinn Fein that is a problem.

Adams has been writing floridly about his "historic" efforts to find peace and reconciliation with the DUP. He has been damning it on his blog as "a party founded on religious intolerance, sectarianism, a belief in the domination of unionism and a dogged opposition to ending discrimination and inequality".

As if similar - and stronger - charges of a murky past couldn't be levelled at Sinn Fein.

This moralistic tone, coming from a man who has been accused of directing the IRA for years, when it bombed civilians in bars and hotels, murdered mothers and dumped their bodies, is not going to sway the DUP.

No DUP member is going to read that article and say, "Right enough. Gerry has a point. I never quite saw it that way before."

That isn't going to happen.

But Adams isn't going to change his mind either. He is not a man who harbours guilt and self-doubt. He lives with the deep and easy conviction that he did what he had to do, and that he warrants the admiration and gratitude of us all.

If the DUP is to get the message that it is in deep trouble and that it must concede something to the fact that all other parties have lost faith in Foster as leader, then Adams is not the man to tell it that.

We were supposed, by now, to have moved into a political climate beyond the Troubles, with a democratic Assembly that could function to proper constitutional standards; one in which the shadow of the past would not contaminate or disrupt the debates.

Well, Adams is a shadow of the past more than he is anything. He cannot speak about anything without his past being thrown up against him.

He has no credibility when he is moralising and telling others how everything would work out if we were all just as noble and self-sacrificing as himself.

I have no doubt he believes that, and probably thinks he is hounded by bigoted and small-minded journalists and commentators, who haven't moved on as gracefully as himself.

But he needs a friend at close quarters to tell him to stop making things worse - which is what he does when he presumes to be our Mandela.

This crisis would have been easier to manage if we had superseded the Troubles generation and if Sinn Fein, in particular, had not pledged itself to honouring the good name of the IRA at every turn.

Then again, Adams has much to garner from this crisis.

He is in trouble in the Dail, where he is hounded by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael for his presumption and his semi-detached commitment to due process.

He is still refusing to name an IRA intermediary who met Austin Stack with him to give him information about the 1980s IRA murder of Mr Stack's father Brian, a prison officer at Portlaoise.

So, it suits very nicely for him to be presenting himself as the defender of probity and good government.

But we have a problem here.

It is a real dispute over issues of substance, the quality of government and the management of resources. And it is getting deflected into the old channels, by which it can be presented and read as merely sectarian. That should not be allowed to happen.

And it would help if Adams butted out.

He should have stood down years ago, anyway.

Malachi O'Doherty's new book, Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life, will be published by Faber and Faber in September

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