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Sunday 5 January 2014


Let's put to bed the false mantra of Gerry Adams, the teddy-bear hugger

Politicians in the south must face down the SF leader and undermine the dissidents

IS the strain of being Sinn Fein president telling on Gerry Adams? More and more, he seems to be taking refuge in a Twitter persona that would be more suitable for a fellow living in his mother's basement playing in the bath with his rubber ducks. Isn't it weird for a 65-year-old political leader to tell his followers: "Going 2 the leaba. Me&Ted&Tom [teddy bears] & Johnny Cash with Linda Ronstad & Maria Callas. Oiche mhaith s Codladh samh xo"?

Meanwhile, Martin McGuinness tweets in statesman mode: "Very serious weather/flood problems today, on my way to Belfast to meet Ministerial colleagues. PSNI & Depts priority to keep people safe."

Is it that Martin takes himself terribly seriously while Gerry's joie de vivre and sense of humour are irrepressible? Er, no. McGuinness isn't exactly a laugh, but he isn't self-important. Adams, however, does appear to be vain (think of the expensive clothes, teeth and hair) and seems now psychologically desperate to project an image of a loveable folksy chap with a cultured hinterland. Unfortunately, though he strains to be witty, he has no sense of humour: Adams the embarrassing tweeter is the same guy who used to tell long, unfunny jokes to old ladies on the Falls Road.

We should be kind. It's not easy being Gerry Adams. Of all Irish republican leaders, he's the one riding two horses. McGuinness and northern colleagues haven't forgotten that they want to rule the whole island, but when they get up in the morning, they're focused on keeping their electorate happy by being seen to do a responsible job in government while winning tribal battles on the ground. In the south, the likes of Mary Lou McDonald know their job is to make coalition a possibility by making themselves seem like a sensible alternative to Labour.

Adams, however, the president of Sinn Fein, has the job of being cross-border leader, and it's not proving easy. He's loved by his party up north, but he doesn't really get the south, is loathed in the Dail, has never overcome his reputation as an economic illiterate and -- after blaming Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan for colluding in their own murder -- has taken a severe hit in the polls.

But it's tough trying to cater for two distinct cultures. The south wants him to be soft-spoken and talk peace, and he does that when it suits, but unlike his southern colleagues he's preoccupied with the growing threat of the dissidents and his fear that they could hijack the 2016 commemorations that Sinn Fein wants to dominate. Hence his deliberate decision to take on the Irish establishment by saying that if it was legitimate for a small cabal to resort to violence in 1916, all violent nationalists had the right to do the same ever since. He wants parity of esteem for the Provos with the Old IRA. The trouble is that if the Provos were right, so are the dissidents. How do you convince a young man who is told to honour Provo bombers and killers that it was OK then but wrong now?

Adams claims that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement removed the justification for violence. For the sake of national stability, his arguments must be addressed robustly. Leaders of constitutional nationalism need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to say that it was the 1922 Anglo-Irish Treaty that removed any justification for violence and that all subsequent IRAs were illegitimate, ruined tens of thousands of lives and copper-fastened partition. Because that's the truth.

For all the Sinn Fein mantras about border polls and identity politics, the leadership knows a United Ireland is now a chimera. Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin have been squaring up to Adams, but they and their colleagues have to destroy his argument. And, by doing so, undermine that of the dissidents.

Adams knows he has a fight on his hands, but he doesn't think southern politicians have the bottle to face him down. Yet he knows that although he claims that Sinn Fein is an all-Ireland party, in its psyche, it's as partitioned as the country. Gerry Kelly -- the bomber who shot a prison officer in the head -- wouldn't play well in Cork; middle-class Mary Lou wouldn't wow them in south Armagh. And with all his failings, Adams does have all-Ireland credibility.

Here are two of the many questions he faces. Should he stay or should he go? How will Sinn Fein cope with the politics of the next British General Election in 2015? They'd like to take their seats in Westminster in the hope of being king-makers, but fear a republican backlash.

It's tough being Gerry. "All U need is love. All U need is love. All U need is love. Love, love is all U need. An grá abú!" he tweeted plaintively the other day. Sadly, Gerry, in this instance, love is not enough.


Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards