Gerry Adams relying on some extremely fine distinctions in law to get past the AG?

Gerry Moriarty in the Irish Times yesterday notes the inconsistency of Gerry Adams various stories in relation to what he knew about his brothers abuse of his daughter and when.

There are two versions of the truth at play. What Gerry says he knew (and when) and what Aine and her mother say he was told (and when). Here’s some highlights from Moriarty:

It emerged during both the collapsed and completed trials that as far back as 1987 Adams was aware of the abuse allegation against his brother – an allegation Liam Adams denied that same year when confronted by the Sinn Féin leader.

As Adams said in the first trial (he wasn’t called to give evidence in the second trial), it was in 2000 during a long walk in the rain in Dundalk that his brother admitted the abuse to him, saying it only happened on one occasion.

When in 2006 Áine Adams reactivated her 1987 allegation Gerry Adams went to the police in 2007 to give a statement – but did not tell them about the 2000 admission by his brother. As McDermott said it took another “two years and four months” before he did tell the PSNI about that admission.[emphasis added]

This is important, because it has been consistently misreported since the end of the trial.  In April Adams was very keen to tell the court that his solicitor (who is now the DPP) told him in 2007 that he had plenty of time to make a second statement (by the looks of it, an attempt to shed blame from himself to his counsel for the delay).

That second statement came two years later, in which Adams had said he had  a number of conversations with Liam between 2001-2007 in which his brother had admitted to him what he’d done.

The reference to Dundalk, the rain and 200o only came in a written statement to the court this year, and contradicts what he told the police in 2009. The written statement was made during the trial in April this year (with Richard McAuley in the room but not helping, apparently).

Then just days later he admits that he cannot be sure it happened in 2000, or any time. So it turns out that most of the statements made by the Sinn Fein leader have proven to be nothing more than provisionally true.

And that’s only going on what Adams himself says. But as Suzanne Breen notes most of Adams responses from 2007 onwards appear designed to keep himself out of legal difficulties:

Both Aine and her mother Sally Campbell have stated that from 1987 – before they all visited Buncrana to confront his brother – Mr Adams knew the precise detail of the allegations against Liam including how he had raped Aine.

The Sinn Féin president denied this and said he didn’t hear of the rape allegations for 20 years. He told Belfast Crown Court at his brother’s first trial in April that Liam had confessed in 2000 that he “sexually assaulted, molested” Aine and had said it “only happened once”. He did not say that Liam ever confessed to raping Aine.[emphasis added]

It’s might have been an odd distinction in terms of what happened at the time, but it makes considerable sense now in respect of the decision facing the current Attorney General. Breen explains:

The Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967 states that it is an offence for a person to withhold information about a crime. But the crime involved must be an arrestable offence carrying a sentence of five or more years’ imprisonment.

This is further clarified by the Police and Criminal Evidence Order 2007. When Liam Adams abused Aine between 1977 and 1983, rape carried a sentence of over five years and so a person withholding information about it would be open to prosecution.

However, sexual assault carried a sentence of two years’ imprisonment during the period that Aine was abused, legal experts have said.

It was therefore not an arrestable offence meeting the five year tariff as set out by law. So someone admitting they didn’t tell police about sexual assault – as opposed to rape – is unlikely to be prosecuted for withholding information.[emphasis added]

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