- It's a powerful, and powerfully nasty, strategy, often adopted by those who wish to unload their hostile impulses while all the time looking whiter-than-white. Innocently upstanding, unimpeachably correct - Fionola Meredith
The public discourse of Gerry Adams since the beginning of Sinn Fein’s latest sex abuse scandal has contained a fair whiff of menace. Despite a long standing propensity towards hectoring and bullying, he has been careful to remain reasonably circumspect when addressing the use of political violence, particularly when accused of having been directly involved in it. A consistent response from Adams has been to place as much distance between himself and the use of republican physical force and label as a liar any former colleague daring to say otherwise.
Adams has long faced suggestions that he was, in politically loaded legal parlance, a director of terrorism. Magnifying and amplifying the perceived blemishes of political opponents is commonplace in politics. In the endless jockeying for position to either acquire or strengthen their own dominant place in the governmental transmission belt that disseminates the requirements of the ruling bloc, each of the four main office chasing Dail parties routinely hurl invective at one another. It is to be expected in the arena of adversarial politics where attacking the opposition is considered a sharper weapon than explaining yourself. The accused for the most part tries not to feed their accuser. Adams has charted a different course. Since the onset of the sex abuse onslaught that has hit Sinn Fein he has opted to sail close to the wind rather than head for the nearest port in a storm.
Adams first spoke glowingly of Michael Collins’ violent solution to the problem posed by a media outlet he disapproved of, suggesting at the very least that a draconian Section 31 type measure targeting free expression would be something he would not be averse to. On the back of this, during a Dail debate on Allegations of Sexual Abuse by Members of the Provisional Republican Movement, he glibly referred to disappearing people. He cannot feign ignorance in his defence, understanding better than most the grave connotations that flow from the term.
In taunting his fellow partners within the Southern political elite of which he is a constituent part, he probably detects a mood swing in Irish society: the electorate feels less alarmed by disappearances and sex abuse from the past than it does about predatory capitalism in the present. Whatever truth underlies allegations of secret graves or secret bank bail outs that swirl around the discursive maelstrom, water criminals are considered worse than war criminals.
In all of his recommissioned sabre rattling there is arguably less a statement of intent and more a glimpse of preference. With the rise of authoritarian populist parties it might not be too difficult for those whose political memory extends beyond the peace process to imagine Adams as a Jorge Videla were the circumstances propitious to old habits. But it would take a major reconfiguration of the political landscape right across Europe and within Ireland before Adams would have the type of power to fulfil his totalitarian instincts.
Nevertheless, the deliberate emission from his discourse of the penumbra of menace is a sombre reminder that what curbs his dark instincts is not his own democratic sentiment, but society’s democratic constraints.