Pearse Doherty is invariably a capable performer, whether on his feet in the Dail or in the hot seat during media interviews, visual and audio. He launches salvoes at the government, the avaricious rich and austerity in a language that people understand and which the government and its allies also understand and dislike. Often they look like dullards when confronted by him, black holes out of which no light can escape. An articulate advocate of his politics, any party would be happy to have him in its front bench team.
Listening to him today being interviewed on RTE 1 about the Mairia Cahill case, proved to be one of those very rare occasions when he failed to impress. While he did not come over as wanting to harm Cahill he seemed tied to a party line which takes refuge behind the judgement of the court in a case that was never heard largely because the PSNI sabotaged its chances of success for reasons that remain unclear.
Accepting that Cahill was the victim of rape, Doherty vacillated when asked if he believed Cahill’s account of being compelled to attend IRA meetings, which were either interrogations or investigations depending on your slant. Gone was the assuredness with which he normally prosecutes his case. There was a sense that his heart was not in it. He referred to the acquittals in the court which in terms of public understanding do not amount to a lot. We do not yet live in a judicial dictatorship where the courts are the final arbiter of public knowledge. Mairia Cahill’s father has also confirmed that she underwent the ordeal of attending IRA sessions which are said to have re-traumatised her. Does the court verdict amount to a hill of beans in the face of such testimony?
Pearse Doherty’s effectiveness as a parliamentarian, rights campaigner and media commentator are based in part on a credibility that is eroded each time he feels compelled to tow the party line which demands that the organised lying of the leadership is acquiesced in by all party spokespeople and representatives. That lying has one objective: protecting the political skin of the leader before the reputation of the party. When Doherty claims to believe his leader’s lies that he was never in the IRA he risks damaging his own credibility without enhancing that of Adams.
Pearse Doherty would be well advised to grasp that the type of whispering campaign waged against Mairia Cahill by some of his party colleagues will as readily be employed against him were he to get above his station. There is only one Taoiseach in Sinn Fein. Unlike any other party on the island or in neighbouring Britain there has only been one Taoiseach in Sinn Fein for the past thirty one years.
Yet the party does not need Adams as leader to go forward. In the era of austerity deep societal mistrust of Fianna Fail was already creating the fecund ground in which parties like Sinn Fein could mushroom. Adams didn’t lift Sinn Fein’s boat in the South, its rise lifted his. His prescience for career advantage more than strategic acumen led to his ousting of Arthur Morgan and the securing of a seat in the Dail for himself where he could position himself at the front of the queue.
As the Catholic Church has discovered, sexual abuse is like the hydra’s head. No matter how often it is chopped off it, another will take its place. Leaders like Gerry Adams who in the past because of his seniority in the organisation determined how the IRA would handle issues like sexual abuse, will always be susceptible to every skeleton that falls out of the cupboard. Should Pearse Doherty and Sinn Fein feel the rattle as well? Political progress is built on assets not liabilities.