There was a fillip in the polls for Sinn Fein at the weekend, making it the most popular party on the island, even if the same poll indicates that public confidence has dropped in its leader. Despite that, listening to both Gerry Adams on RTE and his deputy Mary Lou McDonald on Newstalk yesterday it is clear that the satisfaction both might have derived from such polls is deflated by the sex abuse scandal the party has become embroiled in.
Adams wanted to talk about water but other than complain about not being able to drown any uncomfortable probing in a watery grave, his want was stymied. The entire interview was taken up with him dodging suggestions that he covered up sexual abuse. What seemed to be bona fide comparisons drawn between him and Cardinal Sean Brady easily riled him. At one point he ridiculously took to claiming that RTE producers had brought him on under false pretences, overlooking the obvious - he only ever wants to be interviewed by the media under false pretences: the very false pretence that he was never a member of the IRA.
Mary Lou McDonald, after a fairly robust performance on water charges, again flailed when asked about sex abuse. Put in a quandary as a result of a rare moment of candour on the part of her party leader, who in his blog acknowledged that the IRA exiled people it deemed guilty of sexual abuse, she was unable to muster up the persuasive force to make the point that the party had no idea as to where such people were exiled. She sought to lessen the blow of seeming IRA complicity - and managerial similarity to the Catholic Church - in furtively recycling rapists and abusers by stating that the cases were widely known about as a result of having been featured in An Phoblacht/Republican News. She did not name one edition where the IRA admitted exiling its own volunteers, identified one of the volunteers exiled, or the destination to which they were banished.
How the IRA dealt with sexual abuse is a poison chalice neither McDonald nor the post-conflict membership of the party should have to drink from. It is largely an own goal, its origins resting in the failure of the party to firewall itself from the toxicity of its leader. Sinn Fein does not need Adams although he needs it if he is to satiate his ambition and move beyond his bishop of Louth status to become the cardinal of the country. That is why he has no intention of standing down despite compelling evidence of his personal liability in regard to covering for his brother whom he believed to be a child rapist and who was subsequently convicted of the same.
Party luminaries and strategists, who under false pretences have felt obligated to publicly assert a belief in the fictions peddled by their leader, must recognise that while it might be harmless fun about which he should not be crucified in other circumstances, there is no mileage for the party to have Adams quizzed in the media over his sexual tweets, which reference fragrant penises and ‘Hey bby gurl, I got something LONG 4 ur BOTTOM.’
Unless Sinn Fein finds a way to shake Adams off its shoe it will feel the weight of the soiled footprint from the past press down on its ability to navigate the present, a shudder undulating through its body politic each time the media walk over a secret grave.