Belfast Telegraph

Gerry Adams reminds us that the sins of the past never go away

By Ian O'Doherty

He hasn't gone away, you know - no matter how fervently the younger elements of Sinn Fein might privately wish that were the case.

When it comes to the long, arduous task of trying to convince the population that Sinn Fein are, to use their own plaintive cry, a legitimate political party, every now and then another skeleton from their past comes rattling down the pipe and reminds people that no other party in the Republic of Ireland, no matter how extreme their policies, have been so inextricably linked to murder and torture.

To a younger generation, Gerry Adams is simply another grey politician with a strange habit of posting tweets of such striking banality that I'm still not entirely sure they're not actually hidden codes.

For people who can still remember a time before the peace process, he was the man who was never in the IRA, who didn't know anyone in the IRA and who had somehow become leader of Sinn Fein without ever getting his hands dirty.

People didn't buy it then and they don't buy it now, but his strikingly intemperate comments on a local radio station last week about the cowardly murder of innocent farmer, Tom Oliver, will have reminded younger voters just what sort of political beast they are really dealing with.

Oliver was a father-of-seven from Louth who was abducted by the IRA when one of its arms dumps was discovered by gardai on his land in 1991. That was enough to mark him as an informer and he was beaten, tortured and shot in the head.

He was destined to be just another statistic in the Provos' squalid border campaign until the gardai opened a new investigation into his murder earlier this year.

No reasonable person would think the killers of an innocent farmer and family man should be allowed to escape justice. But Gerry Adams is not a reasonable person and, as he said to Michael Reade on LMFM, he conceded that the Oliver family were "fully entitled" to seek justice, but also argued that: "At the same time, filling the prisons again, putting people back into prison, I don't think it would be productive...it would be totally and utterly counterproductive and do nothing to help the wider process that all of us are engaged in."

It was a remarkably stupid thing to say. After all, even leaving aside Sinn Fein's repeated calls for former soldiers who served in the North to be prosecuted for any wrongdoings they may have committed, the Shinners have been busy trying to establish their credentials as a left wing, civil rights organisation.

That goal is rather hampered when your leader thinks it would be wrong to prosecute people who murdered an innocent farmer, even if he prefers to designate it a 'politically motivated killing', which still sounds an awful lot like terrorism.

As we have come to expect from Adams, his comments were all wounded indignation, mealy-mouthed justifications and, as ever, the thinly veiled threat that pursuing justice through the appropriate apparatus of this State - as opposed to the more traditional kangaroo court - would lead to the IRA once more taking up arms. In other words, the bully has stopped hitting you, but can't promise that he won't start again if you keep asking him awkward questions.

One of the great ironies of Sinn Fein is how they manage to portray themselves as victims, on the side of other victims. No cause is too trendy for the younger members to get involved in, no bandwagon is complete without them hopping on board and displaying their liberal credentials, but it's all a lie.

To put it in simple terms, if Donald Trump had announced on Fox News that he didn't think there was any point in prosecuting white nationalists for a murder that was committed two decades ago, there would be outrage from the Sinn Fein press office and their more media savvy performers would be lining up and forming an orderly queue outside Irish media outlets to share their outrage.

Instead, there has been radio silence, as the Shinners once more revert to their code of silence.

That the response to Adams' genuinely remarkable comments, which are at best tone deaf and at worst truly sinister, has been relatively muted is a depressing insight into Gerry-fatigue - the people who have known him and his work have almost given up hope of ever holding him to account, while many younger voters look on the IRA's campaign of murder, mayhem and intimidation as unfortunate business from the past. But it's not.

Certainly not as long as Adams is in charge of Sinn Fein and, even worse, holds a seat in the Dail.

Adams' comments on Thursday were indicative of a man who thinks he can get away with saying anything, precisely because he does get away with everything and all those asinine tweets about his rubber ducks and teddy bears won't change the brutal, homicidal reality of his organisation's history.

Who will hold him to account?

Certainly not his own party faithful. What other 'legitimate' party would stand for a leader who thinks murder should go unpunished simply because apprehending the killers might pose some awkward questions? But maybe we should, in a way, be thankful for his openness - maybe it will remind people just what we are dealing with.

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