Over at Slugger, amongst much discussion of this issue, Brian asks why the Adams story isn’t getting quite the media play of the Robinson story:
On Adams, Suzanne has been doing much of the grind work and much of the rest of the press have been riding on the back of it, just as everyone seized on BBC Spotlight’s exclusive whistleblowing. Although restraints have been cast aside, some caution is still needed on Adams, if only in the interests of fairness, as Mick has rightly warned. The Sunday Tribune have been taking considerable risks over defamation, confidentiality and reporting detail that could prejudice a trial. The Cahill case goes very far indeed, as if the paper believes there’s little chance of a prosecution or need to shield the victim, despite her voluntary testimony. Note too the police’s warning to Gerry Adams over his own persistent attempts at self-exculpation. That line may actually have been crossed some time ago, albeit arguably in the public interest…
I think this is basically correct and, as Dave knows, being online is no protection against the defamation laws. In criminal cases you enter much dodgier territory, which is why I’m being extremely careful on this – and not only on this issue, it’s not as if I don’t have thoughts on the Tommy Sheridan case but I’m not going to open a discussion thread on it until the legalities are resolved. There is the further element of prejudice – certainly, Liam Adams’ defence team would be remiss if they didn’t make reference to some of the more sensationalist media coverage in the north. It seems to me too, and here I must enter the caveat that I Am Not A Lawyer, that the Tribune has indeed been running some risks. AFAIK there is no public interest defence for naming a sexual abuse complainant who has not voluntarily waived her anonymity, and withholding names while providing more than enough detail for close-knit communities to identify individuals looks like thin ice to me.
But let’s return to Brian:
How do I rate the Adams affair as a story? Cumulatively gripping, but quite a slow burn which could yet ignite. The long fuse partly consists of Gerry Adams himself under pressure. The allegations against both Adams brothers may well be about a greater immorality than anything Iris Robinson committed. But news judgements are essentially amoral although moral judgements may figure. The painstaking trawl through newspaper records about who said what and when, if at all, lacks the punch of the Iris affair, particularly for broadcasters. Moreover the political fallout has been conspicuously less so far. Almost certainly Adams’s exposure would have been greater had he been deputy first minister. But those still on the hunt can take comfort: this is surely a story that hasn’t peaked yet.
Up to a point. Actually, the Robinson story still has legs, in terms of the business connections of the Developers’ Unionist Party, not least in the Strangford constituency. Plus, even if you’re primarily interested in the sex angle, it’s entirely possible that an enterprising journalist can turn up one or more trouser-dropping DUP reps for our collective entertainment. If even a tenth of the rumours floating about are true, the Wee Frees are going to have conniptions.
But back to Gerry. It’s becoming very easy to lose sight of the actual issues – although see this for a sobering reminder. There are, as I’ve said, lots of people who don’t like Gerry, often for very good reasons, and it’s understandable that some folks are very excited at the prospect of bringing down Gerry and some of his honchos. It’s also unsurprising that Gerry himself is capable of being deeply manipulative even during what’s evidently a personally very difficult time – although his efforts to keep the party out of this seem to have had the opposite effect. There are, though, difficult questions for him to answer in the longer term.
But don’t underestimate the extent to which Gerry is bulletproof. There’s nobody about to launch a putsch against him internally, and there’s no external foe with the stature to seriously challenge him electorally. West Belfast is a virtual one-party state, and is so by popular demand. Who are his external opponents? Alex Attwood? The Workers Party? The small dissident formations? None of these are going to sweep the broad masses any time soon.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising that, listening to the vox pops earlier today at the Kennedy Centre, most of the punters seemed inclined to give Gerry the benefit of the doubt. There was, it’s true, a little graffiti calling on him to resign, presumably the work of some dissident youth, but it’s been painted over already. It’s quite possible, indeed almost certain, that some people have been leaned on, but you always have to keep in mind that the west Belfast para-state rests on a serious base of popular support. Not only that, but any shit that could conceivably have been thrown at Gerry already has been, multiple times.
Take, for example, the anticipation of the Dark’s posthumous memoir, which the media have been telling us Gerry is deeply worried about. But, Gerry’s denials notwithstanding, everybody knows he was in the Provos, and everybody knows he was leading the Provos in Belfast at a particular point in time when some very bad things happened. Unless the Dark knew (and recorded) something really sensational – and only Gerry really knows what Brendan knew – it’s unlikely he’ll tell us much we either didn’t know or couldn’t have guessed. It’ll be worth finding out, anyway.
Mind you, these abuse cases do point up something worth commenting on. When we talk about the high level of rape and sexual abuse in Irish society, we always have to bear in mind that the perpetrator is usually someone known to, and most often related to, the victim. The exposures of clerical abuse since the Brendan Smyth case are more than just a drop in the ocean – and clerical abuse rightly attracts particular odium because of the breach of trust involved and the fact that the clergy are expected to set a higher standard – but the iceberg is what happens in families.
That said, there are good reasons why, in all the advances our society has made in dealing with sexual abuse, it’s been much easier to train one’s fire on institutions. From the point of view of a victim coming forward after 25 or 30 years, it’s often easier to do so when you’re taking to task a priest who may be dead or an industrial school that may be long since closed, than taking on a family member, with all that that implies. The pressure on the victim is greater when it’s a family matter. And let’s not forget that institutions can be reformed – the reform of the Irish Catholic Church may have been painfully slow and overwhelmingly driven from Rome, but it is taking place – while reforming families is a much bigger ask, and not something you can put forward a large-scale solution for.
So it is in this current situation in the north, that while the abuse has been internal to families – although republican families – it’s an institution, in the form of Sinn Féin, that finds itself in the spotlight. One may ask, without supporting the party, whether this is entirely fair. I don’t think that republicans are more likely to be abusers than anyone else in our society, but if we’re talking about what went on in nationalist Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s there are a number of factors to be borne in mind. One was a policing vacuum, and a police force seemingly more interested in recruiting victims as informers than getting them justice. Also, a social services infrastructure that was a lot less clued up in these matters than it is today. You have a Provisional movement that valued discipline, loyalty and secrecy above all else – which allows you to see how republicans who’d been guilty of quite serious crimes could escape the movement’s rough-and-ready policing regime. And all this in the context of a society dislocated and brutalised by the effects of the Troubles.
And now? Today, the party has a policy that says any member suspected of sexual abuse is immediately suspended without prejudice and reported to the statutory authorities – authorities the party now recognises, which it used not to. This policy dates from as recently as 2006, which tells you how rapidly ideas are changing on this issue, and changing for the better. As far as the more distant past goes, the potential damage will be determined by the significant distinction between an active cover-up (as in the McCartney murder) and a failure to act; and, not least, by how straight party reps are on the matter.
And as for Gerry – well, it’s possible he’ll just get tired and jack it in. But my instinct is still that he’ll jump when he wants to jump and nobody is lining up to push him. In that sense, he’s better placed than Peter.
Rud eile: For those of you who like lefty trainspotting, the Real SWP were out leafletting in Cornmarket on Saturday. Given that they’ve taken the guts of the branch, my instinct is that they’ll be pursuing a tack of doing what the branch was doing, only without the national party. And since the aggravation from the centre often outweighs any material support you might get, they may even make a go of it.