Two good pieces well worth noting over the weekend on the big southern story of last week, Gerry Adams and that list he sent to the Guards. Both put their finger on something important. First Miriam Lord in the Irish Times:
Perish the thought that this inconsequential email was sent with the express intention of further burnishing Gerry’s halo. Withhold information? Sure didn’t he contact the commissioner herself, with names and all?
The reimagining of Adams continues. It is infinitely preferable to what went before. But maybe, just maybe, the Sinn Féin president and his advisers have been a bit too clever for their own good with that pre-election confessional to the commissioner. The party leader’s expressed willingness to co-operate in the fight to bring Brian Stack’s killers to justice provoked his sons to speak out, confidentiality agreement or not. They say they know otherwise. He certainly didn’t tell the commissioner the full story and, for obvious reasons, he was never going to.
But Gerry wanted to have it both ways – to look good in public by professing to do one thing while not doing it at all. The Stacks’ version of events, added to Adams’s dud email list of possible suspects and now his admission that he won’t name the IRA man who knows what happened, make his honeyed words seem very hollow indeed. Time to retreat behind the peace process.
And Eilis O’Hanlon, who offers a relatively benign explanation of Adams odd behaviour over the Stack case:
It makes no sense whatsoever that he would claim to have been given certain names by Austin Stack, because Austin could refute his allegations immediately; but then it makes even less sense that Austin would have given him the names, as the entire purpose of the meeting was to get information from SF and the IRA, not the other way round. They were not coming to the republican movement from a position of knowledge which they wished to share with the IRA; the IRA already knew who planned and carried out the shooting of Brian Stack.
They were going to them as frustrated people who had hit a brick wall in their own enquiries, and now, as a last resort, were imploring republicans themselves to share what information they had.
But if Adams does not actually remember the exact sequence of events, but is merely trying to make sense of them in retrospect, then it makes perfect sense that he would, as he has on so many previous occasions, alight on little bits and pieces of information, like a magpie picking up shiny things in the grass and building a nest from them. Being asked afterwards to recall where all the fragments came from is impossible.
O’Hanlon references Adams’ interview with Audrey Carville last Friday morning, and makes this point:
He’s always trying to play two contradictory roles at the same time. On the one hand, the strong leader who brought SF/IRA through the long war; on the other, the victim who has also suffered every bit as much as the Stacks.
On the [other] hand, the democratic politician with the same respect for the law as every other TD; on the other, the man bound by loyalty to keeping the secrets of a deadly illegal gang.
It’s when he’s asked to reconcile these two elements – as when Carville asked him whether he would give the name of the IRA member who met the Stacks – that the carefully constructed facade falls apart. He cannot keep playing both roles, but nor can he pick between them. He’s trapped.
And she, rightly in my view, concludes that a key problem exposed over and over again in these now semi regular crises is that Adams is paying the price for his longevity as a politician. Inevitably, his long political life brings the muddy boots of his past with him:
If you’ve lived a lie for a long time, a secret life, some details of which must be kept even from people who are closest to you, then you need to retain control at all times. When it starts to slip is where the “rabbit caught in headlights” look comes from.
Adams is also something of a gambler, in the Donald Trump mould; he will risk an extra detail here or an off-the- cuff remark there by playing the percentages. Nine times out of 10, you get away with it. For the one in 10 times that you don’t, improvise. When no consequences are imposed by those behind you in the party, there’s no incentive not to bet the farm the next time either.
One texter to Newstalk last Friday, while no supporter of Sinn Fein, felt that using the murder of Brian Stack as a stick with which to beat Adams was to impose the standards of 2016 on to events of 1983 – but that’s what happens when you try to impose the leaders of 1983 on to the political situation in 2016. They bring 1983 with them.
Adams is a relic. He is a 20th century politician struggling to keep his feet in a 21st century world. That’s not a judgement on his age, but on his abnormal longevity at the top of a movement which does not allow dissent. Gerry lives in a world that no longer exists except in his own head.
Somewhere in Jung’s literature he argues that psychological complexes begin as something that is first kept secret from others and then over time, becomes a secret from the subject himself. The complex appears to the subject to be something operating outside himself and in the world.
It may be a variation of (or a partial explanation for) Harry Frankfurt’s general dictum that “the bullshiter is indifferent to the truth in a way that the liar is not”. It might also explain why the world Mr Adams experiences is different from everyone else’s?
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