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Sunday 1 November 2015


Adams has to travel in two different directions

The IRA army council is struggling to deal with two jurisdictions either side of the Border, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Sinn Fein's Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2015 in Derry

Skilled for years in riding two horses simultaneously, these days Gerry Adams is beginning to look more like someone riding two escalators going in opposite directions.

It was a sign of panic when last week he anointed Mary Lou McDonald as his successor and said there was no reason why someone who hadn't lived in Northern Ireland during the Troubles couldn't take over from him. "The people who will take that decision, as it does every year, will be the Ard Fheis," Adams said.

He's a great kidder, is Adams. The people who will take that decision, as it does every year, is the invisible IRA army council which, whether he sits on it or not these days, is as much under his and Martin McGuinness's control as it has been for more than three decades.

I've always had great respect for Adams's iron self-control, but just occasionally it slips. One such occasion was immediately after he was elected as TD for Louth in 2011 and was asked by a reporter if he would now be taking over the leadership of the party. "I haven't decided yet," he said. And then, registering that he had "misspoken", he corrected himself and explained that it was up to the party.

But of course, the decision had been taken a long time previously by the army council, who had concluded that for Sinn Fein to take power in the Republic, it would have to be led by someone with more clout than reliable but dull Caoimhghin O Caolain from Monaghan, the retired banker.

So Adams and his fellow Nordie strategists decided that he would leave his West Belfast constituency, whose unfortunate nationalist denizens had been intimidated and indoctrinated into obedience by the IRA throughout the Troubles, its unprotected members attacked by drug-crazed loyalist sectarian killers, treated as the harbourers of terrorists by the security forces and reduced to an economic wasteland of welfare dependency. And the people of Louth obliged, O Caolain stepped aside without a peep and the Ard Fheis agreed that Gerry, who had already been President of Sinn Fein for 28 years, would continue in that role and take over in the Dail.

There he soon whipped the party into shape and ensured that members would follow orders blindly, declare total loyalty to the leader whatever he was being accused of, and, at all costs, form no friendships with any politicians outside their party.

That's what happens when you're schooled according to the curriculum of the army council, which is still almost exclusively composed of Northerners. There isn't one of those men - for they are, of course, all men - who wasn't involved for decades in killing or making terrible decisions about who should live and who should die, and who hasn't been brutalised by years of that pointless, squalid, cruel long war.

However many ghastly commemorations of killers Mary Lou attends in order to prove her credentials, she has had a suburban life and would probably think twice about killing a spider. If Adams is too hard for the south, Mary Lou is too fluffy for the north. How the devil can she convince oldish men up to their knees in blood that she is just as tough as they are? For the southern audience, she is the mother buying 'Cheerios' in the supermarket; for the northerners, she has to be an unapologetic apologist for mass murder.

Adams has had to do it the other way around. Northern nationalists know exactly what he is and hate or revere him depending on their point of view. Southerners are confused, for there is widespread ignorance about what really went on up there and he has had some success in softening his hard image with idiotic tweets about teddy bears and cake.

He's dealt with embarrassing allegations about murder and covers-up by chanting the phrase "peace process" like a magic mantra and as the skeletons persist in tumbling out of cupboards, attacking the bona fides of anyone who seeks to tell the truth about the evil over which he and his army council chums presided.

Here's the problem. Ireland does indeed have a partitionist mentality, and it has generations of violent republicanism and the loyalist bigotry it fed to thank for it. Northern republicans have contempt for the southern softies who failed to take the 'war' to unionists. In the south, there is fear that northern horrors will spill over the border.

TDs mostly understand this and don't want to do any kind of deal with Sinn Fein. It is desperation that has made Adams so anxious to take advantage of the trade union-inspired Right2Change campaign. Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan put it neatly when she spoke of her surprise that Sinn Fein were seeking a vote transfer pact. "I have seen them very much as a lone player. They want to be the main player in the Dail and had been building towards that," she said.

Ruth Coppinger of the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) hit a raw spot when she said the AAA was formally ruling out a voting transfer pact with Sinn Fein for the General Election because Sinn Fein's approach to austerity measures in Northern Ireland was unacceptable.

She then put the boot in by adding that the anti-water charges movement had offered a real possibility of political change but the Right2Change campaign had become a "prop" for Sinn Fein.

So, as Adams is part of the frantic effort in Belfast to get his party back into government with a party of the right, he is looking over his shoulder at the left down south and pretending all the while that he and his party are not driven by a lust for power at any price.

The army council strategists are in sore need of a very, very cunning plan.

Ruth Dudley Edwards's The Seven: the Lives and Legacies of the Founding Fathers of the Irish Republic will be published in March.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards