ALISON O'CONNOR: Adams must be held to account just like any other politician

WHY is Gerry Adams still the leader of Sinn Fein? 

How has he managed to survive in the face of controversy, the type of which would have felled any of his political opponents? How is it that he might even continue to thrive in the face of this latest situation involving Mairia Cahill?

It is a sign of how, if the lines get blurred at all, between truth and that which is not truth, as they did so often in the peace process, that a pattern becomes set.

It is also a sign of the odium in which our other politicians leaders are held that Adams gets so many free passes and appears to have a Teflon-like quality when it comes to being able to manage to brazen out what have been some extraordinarily damaging situations.

There was the sound of chickens coming home to roost this week as our other party leaders took the opportunity to try and deliver a fatal political blow to the great survivor of Irish politics.

I don’t doubt that Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin are horrified by the story of Mairia Cahill’s rape, and how she says she was subjected to an IRA kangaroo court in which she was forced to confront her rapist.

But this has also been an opportunity to try and inflict a serious wound on Gerry Adams, something which they have failed to do in the past, despite strenuous efforts at various times.

They must have wondered in the face of other serious allegations, such as that involving the abduction and murder of Jean McConville, and Gerry Adams’ alleged role in that, how he didn’t just seem to survive, but also to thrive.

A son of Mrs McConville, Michael, said last year that Gerry Adams had warned him several years ago there would be a “backlash” if he released the names of those he believed killed his mother. Mr McConville said he took the remarks “as a threat”. The Sinn Féin leader denied making the remark. “I didn’t say that.”

On Wednesday a clearly angry Gerry Adams accused Enda Kenny and Michéal Martin in the Dail of raising the Cahill case in a very “sliabheen” way, and that they were politicising the issue.

It could be said that he is not too far off the mark in some respects, but in this instance it doesn’t matter. The two party leaders would be derelict in their duties if they did not raise this issue, and ensure that this woman, who has suffered unbelievably, and still come through as an extraordinarily resilient and credible witness, gets justice. It is serendipitous for them that it happens to be very damaging for the Sinn Féin leader.

The norms of politics did not operate in the North when it came to accountability for certain subjects. Most of us observing the peace process accepted that this was the pragmatic approach, and that the sacrificing of truth was worth it if it ended up in lives being saved. This attitude also leaked in to politics in the Republic and again it was understandable in the realm of “bringing Sinn Féin along” and protecting that fragile peace.

Oh God, but it stuck in the collective craw to have to adopt this approach, especially as Sinn Féin began to show themselves to be incredible political operators on this side of the border, and their approval ratings among the public continued to rise. But the advice was consistent: you can’t hit them too hard with the precious peace process in their hands.

It was a flawed approach but it was nevertheless necessary. But you have to draw a line somewhere, don’t you? That line of argument can only stretch so far, and continue on for so long. The case of Mairia Cahill is that moment. It is the moment when Gerry Adams must drop the subterfuge and be held to the same standards as other political leaders.

Of course one of the ways in which that traditionally happens when a party leader finds themselves in trouble, is that the difficulty becomes so obvious they begin to be called out on it by their own members – ranks are broken.

This does not happen in Sinn Féin. It has never happened. It is not countenanced. The discipline remains in place at all times. Again it is relatively easy to understand such things when people find themselves in a war-like situation, the following of orders, and discretion, is a life or death matter. Loyalty is one thing, and a necessary part of the functioning of any political party, but what causes it to still be taken to such extremes in Sinn Féin? What keeps this hold in place now, in “peace time”? The nearest we’ve come to members of the party criticising each other was the time when Dublin South Central TD Aengus Ó Snódaigh was exposed for his rampant printer cartridge habit.

What, for instance, makes an incredibly talented and committed woman like Mary Lou McDonald keep schtum, not just on the circumstances surrounding the Mairia Cahill case, but on other contentious issues on which she must have an independent view.

It is fascinating that Mary Lou, who is so popular, even outside of the traditional party support, and especially with women, would sacrifice that special place she holds amongst her many fans with the Cahill case. She has done so much to bring more women into politics, and to strengthen the feminist cause, and yet here she is embroiled in yet another controversy of her leader’s making, which does her no favours. I was struck by a remark made this week by a Dublin friend, middle class to her toes, when she said: “I was such a fan, quietly if you know what I mean, but I can’t believe where she has gone on this.”

The same goes for deputies like Pearse Doherty, a bright, talented and committed politician, and his fellow countyman Padraig MacLochlainn. They should worry that their never ending discretion; the manner in which they always err so utterly on the side of party line, at a time when they are in no danger of losing their lives for their political beliefs, will ultimately serve to damage their credibility.

As mentioned earlier they have been saved thus far by the low standing in which the Irish public generally hold their politicians. They have also been very successful politically at connecting with the disaffected voters who felt that other politicians were simply in it for their own gain, and didn’t give a toss about the “poor” man. But even these Sinn Féin supporters will have their limits when it comes to human decency and the realisation that such a zealous level of party discipline, particularly on matters as sensitive as the Mairia Cahill case, is actually a disturbing thing. This time it is looking as if they may have bet the political house on Gerry Adams once too often.

What keeps an incredibly talented and committed woman like Mary Lou McDonald keep schtum?

MORE ANALYSIS ON THIS STORY 

Political point scoring does a disservice to Mairia Cahill



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