Liam Adams his brother and the real damage to his party

A roughly scrawled graffito has appeared in Beechmount Avenue in the Falls area of Belfast, which reads: ”Gerry tell the truth?” It’s a rare public challenge to the hegemony of Sinn Fein’s power base. The party hold five out of the six Assembly seats in West Belfast.

It sits around the corner from one of the youth clubs Gerry Adams’ brother Liam worked in for a total of seven years from 1998, until about the time Liam’s daughter Áine restarted a formal police investigation in 2006. He was recently convicted of her multiple child rape.

Up to now and over the twenty five year period Gerry admits to knowing about the case, the calculation within the northern media has been that Adams, like Bertie Ahern, is made of Teflon, and that none of the details emerging from Liam’s trial would lay a scratch on him.

The weight of previous experience would certainly back such a view.

Despite the Northern Bank robbery, and killings of Paul Quinn and Robert McCartney and the ever renewing controversy around the 1972 abduction of Jean McConville, Mr Adams has come through if not smelling of roses certainly prospering at the ballot box and in the polls.

The problem here is that the rape of his niece as a child by her father was not a ‘political crime’. Mr Adams’s story of how he dealt with that crime has gone through innumerable changes each time he has been confronted with new evidence

Adams admitted in testimony in April that he had first heard and believed his niece Áine Adams’s accusations against her father as early as 1987. This is what he told UTV back in 2009.

Yet he also claimed he was estranged from his brother because of what she’d told him. It then emerged in court that Liam had lived with his brother for six weeks after starting at Clonard Monastery Youth Centre. He also attended his brother’s wedding to his second wife.

Gerry also told the court his brother had left the country after Áine first told him of her abuse at his brother’s hands in 1987. Whilst Liam had visited Canada and the US in 1983 he’d not gone further than a couple of holidays Spain after that time.

Asked to identify his brother in a photograph with Martin McGuinness in 2003 at Clonard Adams claimed he could not remember whether his senior colleague had been deputy First Minister in 2003.

He also insisted that he had reported Liam’s offences to both Clonard and Beechmount Youth Clubs. And yet neither had records of any such disclosure.

In short, there is no evidence that Adams did anything other than support his brother despite the fact he knew what Liam had done.

In acquiescing in its leader’s cover story, Sinn Fein has at best been silenced on one of the most chronic issues in Irish public life: i.e. child sex abuse. At worst it is storing up problems for itself further down the line.

This is of course a problem for the northern party. But it also imposes costs on the second generation leadership in the south who have fought the party’s way into political relevance on solid bread and butter issues.

Defending the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle and its place in history is one thing. But how many of the party’s talent in the Oireachtas signed up to defend the denial of victims of rape proper access to due process and the courts of justice.

So is he vulnerable now?

Reporting of northern politics has been cautious, particularly with regards to criticising Sinn Fein. Such caution is often animated by a fear that anything too heavy handed might cause the Good Friday settlement to unwind.

Peace remains delicate flower, as Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI Judith Gillespie put it last week.

But this story was not part of a political attack on Sinn Fein. There has been no loud blast of incoming political fire. It emerged from someone with a very close and personal relationship to the party leader himself.

Any damage arising therefore is more likely to be internal, and self inflicted.

In the south the party’s silence contrasts starkly with the Taoiseach’s and indeed Sinn Fein’s own public stance, on the Catholic church over the protection of paedophile priests. Claims to be a party which seeks to ‘protect the vulnerable’ fall a little short of the mark.

In the north Áine Adams has successfully jumped a long queue of victims patiently awaiting proper redress and finally had her father face justice twenty five years after first telling her uncle Gerry.

As she told the court, “looking back he was buttering me up. In the end I realised it was all about PR and protecting his own image.”

Gerry Adams is one of the longest-serving political leaders in Irish history. He acceded to the presidency of his party back in 1986 at a time when Sinn Fein ballot box tactics played second fiddle to the armed struggle of the Provisional IRA.

Internally Adams faces little in the way of challenge. Most important decisions are made at the top and handed down. In June a controversial planning bill was pressed on the parliamentary group at Stormont without discussion or prior warning.

And the party’s team in the Dail was kept waiting for weeks whilst the internal hierarchy hammered out a decision on which way to vote in the Seanad Referendum.

It is one of those kingdoms Machiavelli described in which it is almost impossible to take power but, once acquired, almost impossible to lose it.

For good or ill, the party’s pennant is firmly nailed to the Adams mast. In west Belfast unlike Robinson’s east of the city, work remains extremely hard to come by (PDF). People are far more focused on the benefits cuts coming down the line than Adams’ cover for his brother.

But in the longer run, it is perhaps his status as an unreliable witness may prove to be the poison in the party’s internal water supply.

A version of this article was first published in the Sunday Business Post as a news feature on 28th October 2013.

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

  • redstar2011

    Graffiti on a wall as reason to open this nonsense yet again!!!!!

    The sound of a barrel bottom being scraped Mick!!!!

  • Mick Fealty

    It was commissioned by the SBP for the analysis RS, not the hook.

  • Neil

    There is anti SF graffitti in every estate in West Belfast to be fair. Anti PSNI stuff and everything. Someone’s been out with a tin of paint, “a rare public challenge to the hegemony of Sinn Fein’s power base” may be overegging the pudding a touch.

  • Gopher

    The damage to SF is that it has been proven to be a cult not a political party. If predators, sexual, financial or otherwise used different institutions for their ends it would be reasonable to suggest and has been proven SF members have done likewise. Whilst the other institutions have parameters, a certain degree of transparency and are amenable SF are not. Any normal person just looks at a SF member and wonders now.

  • Charles_Gould

    Surely the time is now for the members of SF to vote Mary Lou as leader?

  • Rory Carr

    Are you a member of Sinn Féin, Charles, that you are ever so eager to have Ms McDonald as your leader ?

    y the way, “now etc.” is certainly not the time. The time to select a new leader is, strangely enough, during the leadership election process when it is placed on the agenda of the Ard Fheis (that would be akin to an AGM for anglophones)..

  • Charles_Gould

    Rory – that would be a good time to do it.

  • GEF

    The Tories even turned on Maggie and none of her family were charged with child abuse. Gerry is not untouchable after all.

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    Charles, you have the political acumen of a lamb.

  • Charles_Gould

    She would be a good leader, and the present one is really flailing – a real lack of moral authory around various issues.

  • Dixie Elliott

    Charles_Gould naively suggested…

    “Surely the time is now for the members of SF to vote Mary Lou as leader?”

  • Charles_Gould


    Gerry Adams has no moral authority. None whatsoever. Reputation gone, lost forever. It is gone. Finished.

    Honesty the ultimate test of integrity. A dishonest leader reflects poorly on any membership that retains him.

    Mary Lou by far the better person. A person of integrity. A leader of stature. Respected.

    Integrity. Compare and contrast Gerry Adams and John Hume. Different planets.

  • Coll Ciotach

    the reality is that this will not do him much harm, business as usual, all this is nothing but wishful thinking

  • Charles_Gould

    It has done his reputation for honesty harm. Compare and contrast Conal McDevitt.

  • latcheeco

    Can you confirm where you and Pete were at the time of said offense?
    “Rare public challenge” Wise up!

  • Alias

    “Mary Lou by far the better person. A person of integrity. A leader of stature. Respected.”

    No doubt she is a better person than Adams but the evidence doesn’t support the claim that she is a person of integrity. If she was, she wouldn’t have refused to challenge her party leader for (a) failing to inform the party that a paedophile was a member and held various positions in it and (b) failing to inform various groups that they had unwittingly employed a paedophile to work with vulnerable young people.

    She professes to hold strong views in regard to child protection policies but she is led by a person who protects paedophiles. Integrity, if she had any, would compel her to either challenge her party leader or else resign; it wouldn’t compel her to keep her mouth shut lest opening it would damage her career.

    At any rate, most of these party stooges were selected by Denis Donaldson. It is unlikely that a British agent would be selecting candidates who were independently minded or were noted for their integrity (a very dangerous thing) and nor would such types ever consider joining the Shinners.

    It is very much the Adams party. He won’t be going anywhere for the foreseeable future as he is still needed to complete the normalisation agenda – which also involves reintegrating the formerly disenfranchised into the consolidated British state.

  • Charles_Gould

    Alias that is why a leadership challenge is needed.

    His corruption, his deceit, his dishonesty and his protection of paedophiles contaminates those who do not challenge.

  • “Surely the time is now for the members of SF to vote Mary Lou as leader?”


    Why would the Northern branch of the party, which is in government and looking to make McGuinness first minister, give power to a Southerner when the party is not in power in the Republic? It might be the time to make McGuinness the party leader, if he even wants the job, but not McDonald.

  • Charles_Gould

    tmitch57 the centre of gravity of the party is now in the south; the next leader (just as the current leader) will be a TD.

    North of the border the leader in the north will be whoever is DFM.

  • fordprefect

    Adams was “elected” “president of SF for life” in 1983. Alias is spot on with his analysis.

    Charles, I remember a couple of years back a bit of graffiti appeared on a few walls in Belfast alleging that an SDLP politician had been involved in murder in the early ’70s. Only a few newspapers carried the story (they didn’t name him, and showed photos of the graffiti with his name blanked out) and when one paper went to his door, he told them if they published the story he would sue (as is his right, if he has the money). As you keep going on about integrity, honesty etc. etc. etc. would you care to comment about this, because where I live, the dogs in the street… Believe me I am no SFer as you’ve probably seen from my other posts and I can’t stand Adams and the sheep that follow him and SF.

  • Charles_Gould


    I don’t think I can really comment on a claim that an SDLP policitian was involved in a murder. I have not heard of such a thing.

    The SDLP have always been crystal clear regarding its stance towards peaceful and lawful means. It has moral authority, moral integrity.

    Compare/contrast John Hume and Gerry Adams.

  • fordprefect

    Charles, like I said, where I live, the dogs in the street etc.

  • fordprefect

    Charles, (I replied to you on another thread) with this: Was/is it moral for the SDLP to call on people to tout to the RUC and British army on Republicans so that they could be set up and killed?

  • Charles_Gould

    If you are asking me whether people should report suspicious things to the police, then that is the right thing to do.

  • Coll Ciotach

    Compare and contrast Conal? why?

  • fordprefect

    Charles, so the SDLP call on people to tout on Republicans, and someone stupid enough to listen to that line of reasoning (“acting suspicious”) and the very police you are talking about, hand that info over to unionist paramilitaries and the person/persons involved in said “suspicious activity” then get murdered by the UVF/UDA, is that moral integrity?

  • Charles_Gould


    No, but its important that the police be able to have any information on people who have acted against the law, so that those who have broken the law can be arrested and charged and as much evidence as possible is available to the courts, including witness statements.

  • Charles_Gould

    “Compare and contrast Conal? why?”

    The comparison between Gerry Adams and Conal McDevitt is one of lies, dishonesty, and a complete absence of moral integrity (Gerry Adams), to one of honesty and high moral standards in public life (Conal McDevitt).

    The way in which Conal responded to an issue regarding expenses is highly admirable, the way in which Adams has responded to much more serious issues reveals a person with no moral standards whatsoever.

    Both are human. Just one has integrity.

  • Mick Fealty

    All just a little off topic, dontcha think?

  • Charles_Gould


    This isn’t just about the damage to Gerry Adams reputation, which is gone to a point of no return.

    Its about the reputation of a party that has him as leader. Where are those who will not tolerate such lies and evasion, such shielding of paedophiles within the party, and so on.

    Mary Lou is a great future leader, but the longer this goes on the reputational damage goes wider than Adams and to those who implicitly condone this lack of moral integrity.

    I think Mary Lou could still rescue the party but there is a danger if nothing happens that she too is tainted by association.

  • Mick Fealty

    I have to be honest with you, I have zero notion what support ML would have in the party, and besides you’re somewhat glossing over the Machiavellian point that SF is more Ottoman Empire than the city state of Florence. Adams is well dug in and the men (for almost anyone who matters in SF is male), who hold what little distributed power there is within the party, have not waivered in the least.

  • Charles_Gould

    Suspect ML is next leader – she is effectively the operational leader in the Dail and the Dail is there it’s at for SF going forward.

  • Granni Trixie

    I simply don’t get it ..mcDevitt,who admitted to wrong dong as “honest. And of “high moral standards” and “integrity”. Talk about spin.

    AnywAy, I really am happy that he has found am employment with a HUme PR company as whatever his wrong doing he is a loss to politics in NI.

  • Mick Fealty

    Think he means honesty of the Carrington type Granni…

  • sean treacy

    Mick,if the Liam Adams case is so damaging to Gerry and Sinn Fein,why have the SDLP not been using it to their advantage.Would their total silence indicate the prescence of a few skeletons in their own cupboard?

  • Mick Fealty


    That’s a good question.

    Fine Gael have been pretty quiet too. Just a few months ago the Taoiseach was throwing Gerry’s past at him at the drop of a hat. In their case, they may have realised with that Labour going through the floor they may need SF after the next election.

    It’s more likely than a grand coalition between FF/FG.

    As for the SDLP, maybe there are skeletons their cupboard too. I don’t doubt that SF are not the only party with family linen that needs washing. But as I’ve argued above none of the damage above came from an outside attack.

    Adams demonstrated in that witness box his snake oil credentials. That’s the real damage here. Whether and/or when others act on that is a matter for them.