Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

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  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Is Gerry Adams in Trouble?

For those few of us foreigners outside of the British Isles and the American Northeast who pay attention to Northern Ireland, this has been an interesting two weeks. The president of Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA, Gerry Adam's, brother was recently convicted of rape of his daughter when she was a small child. Gerry Adams is being faulted by the media not for being the brother of a convicted child molester but for failing to report his brother Liam to the police or at least keep him away from working with young children and for then lying about this to the public, the media, and the authorities.

When Liam Adam's faults first became public knowledge back in 2009 when his daughter Aisne lodged a complaint with the Police Service of Northern Ireland against him, Sunday Tribune Ireland editor Suzanne Breen exposed Gerry Adam's version of events as a pack of lies. She found photos of the two brothers together at public events after Gerry claimed that he had shunned his brother. At Liam Adam's first trial Gerry testified and he was not called to testify again at the second trial because his testimony was considered to be so unreliable.

Gerry Adams has long been given a long leash--or rope--by the media over his involvement in The Troubles. He claims that he was never a member of the Irish Republican Army let alone an important figure in it. He has yet to explain why he was included in the 1975 peace talks with the British if he was not a member. Most of his supporters forgive his imprecision on this issue because membership in the IRA is still a criminal offense in Northern Ireland and he would be liable for a prison sentence if he confessed. 

After the Good Friday Agreement his role in the disappearance of Jean McConville, a mother of ten who was disappeared by the IRA in December 1972 after comforting a dying British soldier on her doorstep, became a matter of public dispute. The IRA alleged that she was an informer for the British army. Recently there was a legal battle over an information request by the British government on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to Boston College for oral history tapes recorded by individuals who might have had knowledge of the McConville affair. The tapes were made with a proviso that they would not be made public until after the death of the person making them. After the death of former IRA guerrilla Brendan Hughes and former Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine, journalist  Ed Moloney, who had been involved with the Boston College oral history project, published Voices from the Grave, a first-person account by the two based on the tapes with portions written by him putting the pieces in context. In the book Hughes claims that Gerry Adams was the Belfast IRA commander who ordered the kidnapping and execution of McConville. McConville was one of ten people who were disappeared by the IRA whose bodies were sought by relatives for burial after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Adams claimed that he had no knowledge of her whereabouts--which is quite likely true as long as those who executed and buried her did not actually tell him where she was buried. Her body went undiscovered for years until someone walking along a beach found her skeleton in the sand. Moloney and others claimed that the tapes were sought merely to embarrass Adams politically.

When Sinn Fein entered the Northern Ireland peace process in the autumn of 1997 Adams took a back seat to Martin McGuinness, a former top commander of the IRA. McGuinness was head negotiator for Sinn Fein whereas Adams spent much of his time dealing with the media. When the Executive was finally up and running in December 1999 it was McGuinness who served as a minister not Adams. Adams led the effort to build Sinn Fein in the Republic of Ireland, an effort in which he was not very successful because of his lack of detailed knowledge of contemporary Ireland. Adams finally gave up his seat in West Belfast in order to run in the last Dail election in Co. Louth, where he was elected. McGuinness is grooming Gerry Kelley, a former IRA star who was involved in the 1973 bombing of the Old Bailey in London and the 1983 Maze Prison escape, as his successor. Kelly was elected to the Assembly for North Belfast in June 1998 and has served in the Assembly since then. He is presently the party's spokesman for policing and justice.

McGuinness has little need of Gerry Adams at this point. Mary Lou McDonald is the party's star in the Republic. McGuinness and Kelly provide enough of a link to the party's past as part of the Republican Movement. McDonald is the party's future. The fact that it was McGuinness contesting the presidency in the most recent election for the president of Ireland says much about Adams present standing in the party. Originally the belief was that Adams would be president in 2016 in order to celebrate the centennial of the Easter Rising. Now it looks as if any future united Ireland will be presided over by McDonald and not Adams. Here the Independent reports on comment within Sinn Fein on the affair. And Eilis O'Hanlon discusses the problem of rape within the Republican Movement and how that is likely to play in the Republic. Sinn Fein will probably let the voters of Co. Louth determine Adams's political future; just don't expect the party to spend very much to determine that outcome.

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