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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Adams will be undone by the gaps in his story

(by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times)

Gerry Adams had plenty of time to prepare for the publication of allegations of child sex abuse against his brother, Liam. Everything he did must be seen in that light. He is a famously cool character and, however difficult this issue is, he had time to think out every word and action in response to the claims.

UTV Insight, which went public with the accusations on December 18, had been in contact with Adams for more than two months in an effort to get an interview with him. They had told him they knew his brother was on the run and that they had conducted an interview with Liam's daughter Áine in which she made detailed allegations of abuse against her father. Nothing was bounced on Adams, there were no surprises.

Adams said he was aware that Áine had claimed the abuse allegedly lasted from 1978, when Áine was four, until 1983. He also knew that towards the end of this period Liam had been separated from Áine's mother, Sally, but had allegedly continued to abuse his daughter during periods of parental access.

Liam has yet to stand trial and is entitled to a presumption of innocence. Aside from this Gerry Adams has said he was aware of Áine's claims since 1987 and his own actions must be seen in that light. "Áine was about 14 at the time. She was only a kid, but she was always a very good wee girl. I just couldn't imagine a child like her making up such a serious allegation" he said.

Adams gave an interview to UTV's Chris Moore last Friday evening but never mentioned that his father, also Gerry, had been a child abuser.

He spoke about his father later in an RTE interview with Tommie Gorman two days later. He must have known, and been advised by his media handlers, that it could move the story on from Liam. It would provide a follow up for the media, give things a new twist and perhaps attract sympathy for himself.

In his Leargas blog, Adams thanks all who have expressed solidarity with him. As he walked home from Mass last Sunday, even before the RTE broadcast, four people approached him to share the fact that child abuse had occurred in their families too.

It was undoubtedly a miserable period for the Sinn Féin President. The introduction of his father's abusive past, while reviving painful memories, did help to move the spotlight away from the immediate political problems which his brother's non appearance in court posed. But considering the time he had to prepare it, there are plenty of unexplained gaps in Adams's story.

Liam was employed as a youth development worker in Beechmount Community Project, also known as "the Blackie" between November 2004 and May 2006. Gerry Adams says that when he found out Liam was working there he persuaded him to leave the job.

Why did this take so long? The project is in Gerry Adams's West Belfast constituency and is within walking distance of both his home and the Sinn Féin press centre on Falls Road. Adams was a frequent visitor to the project. In June 2005 he unveiled a mural which had been painted by youngsters in the youth development project to promote suicide awareness. Republican News carried a picture of the event.

Earlier in June, Liam, describing himself as a Beechmount community worker, was quoted in the local papers promoting a campaign against glue sniffing. A couple of weeks later Liam was again in the papers, this time promoting a cross community youth project to help Romanian orphans. He travelled to Romania and in November 2005 was interviewed again about a group he brought back from there.

Is it really credible that Adams, the local MP, noticed none of these references to his brother? How much credence would a TD in Dublin or an English MP be given if he pleaded ignorance in a similar situation? It would not be considered a private or non political matter if that TD or MP's brother, who was alleged to have abused a child, was leading a youth project near his party offices and visiting East European orphanages.

During 2002-2007 Adams was holding meetings with Áine and her mother to try to resolve the abuse issue. He says he was trying to get Liam to meet Áine, as she had asked, but Áine was not satisfied with his efforts.

"Our Liam can't cope with life and I am trying to get him to meet you but you know he is a coward and he might not want to do that" Áine said, recalling her conversations with Adams.

Liam was being presented as a man under stress when he was in fact running a youth project and getting on with his life. Áine's boyfriend Tony Dahlstrom told UTV that the meetings offered Áine "false hope", adding "they were telling her that they hadn't seen Liam yet."

Many of the meetings took place in the Cultúrlann, an Irish language and cultural centre, just a little further up the Falls Road from Beechmount, where Liam was working.

This is the same approach of endless but unproductive meetings which republicans often use when people complain against those close to them. The families of many of those killed and secretly buried by the IRA were subjected to the same treatment, as were the family of Robert McCartney, the man stabbed by IRA members in 2005.

Áine eventually ended this cycle and went to the police, who also have a lot to answer for, but first let's wind back to Liam Adams' earlier jobs. From 1998 to 2003 he worked part time for a youth project in Clonard Monastery, also close to the Falls Road. Adams was a frequent visitor to Clonard where he attended mass and used some of the priests as go betweens during the peace process. He says that as soon as he was aware Liam was there, he told the "relevant authorities" but the youth club did not confirm this.

Liam had lived and worked in Dundalk for a few years, involving himself in youth work. In 1998, he even launched a public campaign against a child abuse ring he said was operating in the town.

Adams says that he only learned that shortly before his fiftieth birthday in October 1998 his father had abused some of his siblings and that he heard it while trying to resolve Áine's case. Liam moved to Belfast in September. Did Liam tell Adams at this point, just as he was going to work in Clonard?

It should be noted that Liam has denied the allegations against him. His solicitor has also questioned whether he can get a fair trial in Northern Ireland. But this doesn't change the fact that there are many questions for Gerry Adams to answer in this case. There are questions for the police to answer too. They had plenty of time to prepare. Liam, who had lived south of the border for many years, missed a court appearance in November 2008. Yet the Police Service of Northern Ireland failed to get a European arrest warrant, with the result that gardai in Sligo had to let Liam go when he gave himself up last Monday.

The move in Northern Ireland is towards cutting down on red tape and form filling. This case shows that the paperwork may have slipped a little too far down the agenda.

Surely Gerry Adams wasn't right when he said in 1995, eight years after hearing the allegations against Liam, that people should not report child abuse to the police for fear that they might "use it for their own militaristic ends."

Adams was hinting that the intelligence services might use allegation of abuse as an opportunity to gather information on the IRA. If Liam Adams was ever considered an intelligence asset it would be a nightmare scenario for all concerned, but then no scenario looks good for Gerry Adams.

A politician who has this much explaining to do is a liability to everyone associated with him.

December 28, 2009

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on December 27, 2009.



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