Northern Ireland’s protests, parades and past – and a party president with no plans to go away
It was a bad year for Gerry Adams, but the North has experienced many much worse years
Political culture, political cult: republicans are true to Gerry Adams. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
It was a messy year in Northern Ireland, but there have been worse years, even since peacetime. The year started with flags disorder and ended with the American diplomat Richard Haass trying to put order on flags, parades and the past.
Somehow, through all that happened this year, the question that kept emerging was what the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, will be doing in 2014. Some people even harbour the thought that he might leave politics to focus on his literary career.
The sense of bewilderment and incomprehension about Adams was palpable: many people, particularly in the South, can’t figure him out, and Adams and his supporters can’t seem to figure the bafflement. “It’s like parallel universes,” as one republican puts it.
This must have been an annus horribilis for Adams, what with the Disappeared; the imprisonment of his brother Liam for sexually abusing his own daughter; investigations into whether Adams withheld information about the abuse; his remarks about the murders of Chief Supt Harry Breen and Supt Bob Buchanan; and the continuous and occasionally derisive jibes about his not being a member of the IRA. Would such a litany of verbal assault and allegation not prompt any other politician to quit or be forced from the stage? The culture of any normal party is that it would. But here you move from political culture to political cult.
This month Sinn Féin has been circling the wagons to support its leader. His Belfast friend Jim Gibney, the senior republican and Irish News columnist, complained of “political and class prejudice in the media against Gerry Adams”. A “Patten-style investigation into the media” might “put the brakes on an unaccountable and out-of-control clique”, Gibney wrote.
Many Northern and Southern republicans agreed. “Republicans will be critical of anyone who lets them down, but Adams has not let them down,” says one. “Nobody is suggesting he should collect his bus pass.”
“Republicans will choose their leader, not the media. Republicans stand or fall together,” says another Northern republican. “We see an agenda here. It is heads the establishment wins and tails Adams loses.”
Another bottom-line point for republicans is that Sinn Fein is still on the up, in both the North and the South. That, they are sure, is because of Adams and Martin McGuinness. Why would they remove him?
Some republicans will, if really pushed, concede that the horrors of the Disappeared and the nonsense about not being in the IRA are awkward for Adams, but then add quietly: “The republican base understands.” Nobody within mainstream Sinn Féin has suggested, on or off the record, that Adams is becoming a liability. So it seems Adams doesn’t want to go yet, and republicans don’t want him to go yet.