Gerry Adams gave the most impressive performance yet in Sinn Fein’s counteroffensive on Morning Ireland yesterday. Indeed it was text book lesson in how to conduct yourself under hostile media questioning.
He dispatched the idea that Sinn Fein knew about the robbery in advance saying categorically, that neither he nor the negotiating team knew anything of the operation beforehand.
He also suggested that the fact that the IRA’s denial, which came out before its new year message, was not signed by P O’Neill was nothing more than a game of Scrabble, sponsored mainly by governments and other political parties.
Interestingly, when asked if local people should offer any evidence they might have to the PSNI, he suggested that “they may not want to go to the authorities, they may want to go to some respected member of the community instead”.
His best shot was a gentle forward defensive that would have been worthy of the best Geoffrey Boycott poke. He simply stated that whoever the robbers were, “those people were wrong”. It provides a functionable answer that will no doubt carry separate messages to the politically committed, but may just get him the benefit of other voters.
Perhaps the most contentious part of the interview was his assertion that most of the criticism of his party was coming from an establishment made up of parties which “had roundly condemned the Hume Adams talks, who were never for this peace process anyway, except in their own terms”.
For a party reportedly focused on the Dail elections as its next big objective it’s a good point to make on national radio in the Republic. No doubt it will have brought to the mind of many listeners the sometimes shrill anti-Sinn Fein rhetoric of papers such as the Sunday Independent.
However it ignores one of the most striking aspects of this last week’s press: the tipping of the liberal and nationalist press in Britain and Ireland decidedly away from the suspension of disbelief over the operational split between Sinn Fein and the IRA.
The party may know better than most of its critics just what risk it is taking in alienating the few independent supporters it still has in the mainstream press. It may have good grounds to dismiss the possibility that its main nationalist rival the SDLP being able to capitalise on the disgruntlement of middle class nationalists.
But it’s also worth noting that one of the distinguishing features of this crime, aside from the scale, is that the most immediate and visible victims were aspirational middle class nationalists. However you cut it, that won’t play well in the suburbs of Derry, Enniskillen, Newry, Armagh and Belfast.