This was more like an assault than a handshake
Gerry Adams was determined to exploit the meeting with Charles to the maximum, says Ruth Dudley Edwards
Britain's Prince Charles met Gerry Adams in Ireland on Tuesday, the first time the leader of the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) has met a senior member of the royal family, his Sinn Fein party said (REUTERS/Brian Lawless)
Lasting 13 seconds, it was more an assault than a handshake. Think about it. How often have you ever shaken hands for more than a couple of seconds?
By the end of the encounter, tea had slopped into Prince Charles's saucer and continued pressure had made Gerry Adams's thumb as white as the part of Charles's hand he was still pressing as he continued talking at him in two languages.
"People keep telling me that they are sick to their stomachs from seeing Adams leaning in and grasping Charles's hand so tightly you could see his knuckles whiten," reported a Dublin friend.
But Adams needed images to bolster his peace-making image with wary Irish voters, American diplomats and Irish-Americans uneasy about recent allegations, denied by him, of his involvement in the scandal of the disappeared and the cover-up of sex-abuse. And he got where he is today by being utterly shameless.
Charles has been brought up to hide his feelings, but it can't have been easy.
He had schooled himself to meet and shake the hand of a man he believed approved the murder of Lord Mountbatten, the grandfather he never had, and many others he cared about.
The cup of tea was a necessary defensive weapon: without it, Adams would have grabbed and clung on to both of Charles's hands - even an embrace wouldn't have been out of the question.
The most telling image I saw was the Times cartoon that showed Charles apologetically holding out a dirty hand and (in a reference to his habit of writing letters with black spidery handwriting) saying: "I'm afraid I've got ink on my fingers". Holding out a hand dripping in blood, Adams responds: "That won't be a problem".
Let's just remind ourselves of a few facts. Mountbatten adored Ireland and revelled in the affection and warm welcome he always received in Mullaghmore.
We prize our reputation for hospitality, so what did it do to the psyche of that little village when, in 1979, it became internationally famous because of the murder of their most famous visitor, his grandson Nicky Knatchbull, who was Charles's godson, Nicky's 83-year-old grandmother Lady Brabourne, and Nicky's friend, local boy Paul Maxwell? Not to speak of the terrible injuries to the others on that boat.
Why were they killed and their companions gravely injured? So the IRA could convince their supporters in Soviet Military Intelligence that they could strike "at the heart of imperialism": their reward was £2m from Soviet ally Hafez al-Assad, the dictator of Syria.
Broken-hearted by these deaths, on the same day Charles had also to cope with the IRA's blowing up, at Warrenpoint, of 18 soldiers, 16 of whom were from the Parachute Regiment, of which he was Colonel-in-Chief - an honorary position he had taken up in 1977, which involved him in comforting the injured and the bereaved.
Oh, and of course he knew about the 1983 IRA plot to kill him and Diana in the royal box of a London theatre, which was scuppered by gardai and the informer Sean O'Callaghan. (Republican claims that this was fantasy were in turn scuppered by Garret FitzGerald, who as Taoiseach had been told about it.)
Yet over the past few days, Adams has spoken again and again about how much republicans have to forgive.
In the private meeting he and Martin McGuinness inexplicably had in Galway with Charles, and in public afterwards, he complained of killings by the Parachute Regiment in Derry and Ballymurphy (years before Charles had any connection with them) and said nothing of their deaths at the hands of the IRA. "Reaching out", he tweeted. "Despite some hard issues the Galway meeting with Prince Charles was positive."
As a revolted friend emailed me: "In the digital age we need dramatic images. So Charles the undoubted victim meets the alleged perpetrator who then expresses regret but as a victim and on behalf of victims".
Charles, of course, said as little as possible about the encounters.
"It is what I would have expected [of Adams]," said Norman Tebbitt, whose wife was crippled and who is still in severe pain since the 1984 Brighton bomb. "Those with the most guilty conscience talk the most."
McGuinness is ruthless, but he lacks Adams's vanity and knows how to behave.
He neither held onto nor jabbered at Charles when they met in Belfast - where Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly was demonstrating alongside the Ballymurphy families demanding an apology from Charles.
Now please explain to me why the Taoiseach, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the British Foreign Office and Buckingham Palace agreed that an appropriate response to Sinn Fein's request for a photo-op and a private meeting was to say "Yes" rather than "You're having a laugh"?