The unfeeling Sinn Fein statement on Sunday about the murders at the Massereene Barracks, and the cold, hard words from Gerry Adams on Monday's Today Programme, will have distressed those who believed he had mellowed into a kindly statesman.
Yet the truth is that he may be older, he may even be wiser, but the Gerry Adams of 2009 is as ruthless and vain as the younger version who in the 1980s and 90s was seen by the British public as Public Enemy Number One.
Until the IRA’s military stalemate with the British army forced republicans to seek a peace deal, Adams’s preferred strategy was the twin-track approach of ‘ballot box and Armalite’. Pragmatism forced him and his Provisional colleagues to end their ‘war’, but there was no change of heart. The republican movement that he and Martin McGuinness have controlled for more than 30 years is still utterly committed to gaining control of the island of Ireland: only the tactics change.
The younger Adams would publicly exult when soldiers and police were murdered and dismiss as collateral damage civilians who perished along the way. Only public relations changed his tone. He did not mourn the eleven deaths from an IRA bomb in Enniskillen on Remembrance Sunday 1987: he deplored the bad publicity that ensued. Yes, he regretted the bad press for Irish republicanism created by the carnage at Omagh in 1998 when the break-away Real IRA murdered 31 people (including unborn twins) and even condemned the bombing, yet he has refused to this day to ask his followers to help bring the perpetrators to justice.
The massacres at the Twin Towers on 9/11 made Adams realise that republicans could no longer ride two horses: to keep Irish-America sweet he had to turn his face against terrorism, polish up the peace rhetoric and the tree-hugging, and in public metamorphose into a firm but compassionate uncle. But he was still the same Adams, intent on having Sinn Fein take power north and south by whatever means were available.
After the defeat of the SDLP, the party of constitutional nationalism, McGuinness was installed as Deputy First Minister in May 2007, just before the General Election in the Republic of Ireland. Instead of vindicating the pundits by winning enough seats for a place in a coalition government, Sinn Fein were electorally derailed by Adams, who as party president hogged the media and demonstrated economic illiteracy and ignorance of the southern psyche.
This setback to the republican project, coupled with the poor performance of Sinn Fein ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive, has demoralised the party and made it vulnerable to accusations from dissidents that they sold their souls for pottage. Terrified that those who follow in the bloody footsteps of the terrorists may erode Sinn Fein support in the heartlands, they are tailoring their rhetoric to win the support of republican hard men. For the moment, Gerry Adams has had to take off his mask.