Why Gerry Adams faces one of the biggest challenges of his political career…

On The View last Thursday, there was some agreement on that between Deirdre Heenan referred to him as being made of Teflon, ie nothing ever sticks to him.

But Mr Adams’, and increasingly his party’s, problem does not arise from having a sex offender as a brother. Any of us can have a bad egg in the family. And the problems associated with intrafamial sex abuse are indeed traumatising for all concerned.

The real problem arises from Mr Adams’ inability to account for his inaction in relation to his brother’s work with children, not Liam’s abuse of his daughter. It’s further compounded by the fact that he told UTV that he had believed his niece from the start, ie 1987.

Perhaps some calculate that if he got away with lying about his part in an organisation which accounted for 100s of deaths, why would anyone worry about a cover up of child sex abuse? Unless of course they were the Catholic Church?

Well, it’s not political for a start. Much as it is an awful heart rending tragedy, the kidnap and killing of Jean McConville occurred in a year that accounted for the greatest number of deaths in the conflict.

Adams’ ‘cover up’ does not have the remotest possible political justification to it. Consider too that whatever Adams’ suspicions were beforehand, he heard his brother’s confession in 2000 where exactly? In Dundalk.

That’s in the jurisdiction of An Garda Siochana. Whatever about Northern Ireland, Mr Adams had no ‘official’ political scruples about reporting to authorities in the south.

And to top it all, it’s now within his own constituency.

Voters in Louth may politically ‘understand’ the historic killing and dumping of a mother ten in 1972, but surely they will struggle to comprehend why their TD allowed his child abusing brother to work with local kids ten years ago?

What may have helped Adams in the last week since the trial ended is the strength of the party’s narrative framework, as strong, always thinking in the long term, and the rhetoric of historical determinism.

But the self preserving aspect of this story jams something of a crowbar into the engine of that narrative, if not the narrative itself.

To add complication, unlike other parties or movements, Sinn Fein cannot easily unhook themselves from the leader. Adams is a critical element in the party’s own public branding.

In Cuba Castro is celebrated for having the good sense to make Che Guevara its posthumous revolutionary icon. Dead men don’t grow old or tarnished by the long grind and compromises of life.

The inscrutability of the organisation’s ‘leadership’ will make it hard to separate the party’s fortunes from those of Adams. Like the policeman and the bicycle, where does Leader end and party begin?

Some have been waiting for some form of political attack on Sinn Fein to hit beneath the waterline. Yet such attacks regularly have the opposite effect in their mostly marginalised constituencies, alienating their voters further from the centre of the Irish establishment.

However, this story was not part of any political attack on Sinn Fein.

It emerged from someone very close and personal to the party leader himself. It will be hard to sustain the line that Adams has been any kind of victim here. And the residue is likely to be every bit as toxic as Suzanne Breen argued last week.

There has been no loud percussive blast from incoming fire. No one else but Sinn Fein themselves made this issue political by mounting a rushed defence four years ago of the utterly indefensible.

The cover up of Liam’s offending behaviour has enormous potential to cause Adams, and his party, serious damage. Not least in the TD’s new ‘home’ constituency of Louth.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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