As Liam Adams is convicted, focus turns to what SF leader knew

Gerry Adams was aware of abuse allegation against his brother as far back as 1987

Liam Adams: this trial and an earlier one, which collapsed in April, brought a sharp focus onto Gerry Adams that is not going away. Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

There were elements of finality for two members of the Adams family in Belfast yesterday but not for the third, the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams.

At Laganside Crown Court in the city centre Liam Adams was taken away by prison officers to serve a 16-year sentence for sexually abusing his daughter Aine. She referred to her "absolute relief that this nightmare seems at last to be coming to an end".

Over in west Belfast where he was about to attend the funeral of Fr Alec Reid the Sinn Féin leader, brother of Liam Adams, must have mused that the nightmare isn't at all over.

This trial and an earlier trial of Liam Adams, which collapsed in April, brought a sharp focus on to Gerry Adams that is not going away.


Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire and Attorney General John Larkin are as a result of the two trials reviewing issues around whether Gerry Adams withheld information about his brother's sexual assault of Áine Adams.

It is the result of those examinations that could determine whether Gerry Adams will suffer more political damage due to these trials.

Larkin is expected to conclude his investigation next week, while Maguire’s work could take until early next year.

Both the first and the second, completed, trial raised serious questions for Gerry Adams. It emerged that as far back as 1987 the Sinn Féin president was aware of the abuse allegation against his brother – an allegation Liam Adams denied that same year when confronted by the Sinn Féin leader in Buncrana, Co Donegal.

That case never proceeded because Aine Adams retracted her evidence to the RUC, complaining that some police officers appeared more interested in her uncle Gerry Adams than in her allegations.

In 2006 she repeated the allegations to the PSNI. She said she had always wanted her father to admit the abuse so she could achieve some form of “closure”.

In the first trial, which collapsed for legal reasons, Gerry Adams said that during a "walk in the rain" in Dundalk in 2000, Liam Adams admitted to him that on one occasion he had sexually assaulted his daughter, although he denied raping her.

After Aine Adams reactivated her 1987 allegation, in 2006, Gerry Adams went to the police in 2007 to give a statement – but did not tell them about the 2000 admission by his brother.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Gerry Adams told police about Liam Adams’s partial and limited confession.

During the first trial, Liam Adams's counsel, Eilis McDermott QC, said the reason he gave the 2009 statement was because he already knew that UTV's Insight programme was about to run a special documentary about the abuse.

She said: “You needed to make the statement at that stage because you wanted to do your best to avoid allegations that you had withheld information about child sexual abuse?”

McDermott accused him of acting to save his “political skin”.

It was a forensic examination in which Gerry Adams had to answer directly without unnecessary recourse to over-qualification or discursiveness, a form of probing that doesn’t suit him.

McDermott also accused him of lying when in 2009 he said that after 1987 Liam Adams was “out of my life more or less for the next 15 years”. She showed Adams photographs of him and Liam Adams together at family and political events in 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2003.

McDermott also queried how Liam Adams was able to work in youth clubs in west Belfast and Dundalk in Co Louth – the former and current constituencies of Gerry Adams – even in the period after the 2000 admission.

She used all these arguments to bolster her claim that he acted in self-interest, not in Aine Adams’s interest. It was a gruelling cross-examination.

Gerry Adams insisted he always acted in the interests of Aine Adams and that he did nothing wrong. “If I had been interested in saving my political skin I would not have got involved in this process at the beginning and tried to fulfil my responsibility as an uncle for a young woman who I am very fond of,” he said.

Since then – between the conviction of Liam Adams on October 1st and ahead of yesterday’s sentencing – pressure mounted on both sides of the Border on the Sinn Féin leader.

Away from the court setting where a tough lawyer would not allow him “stray” from the point, he rejected “unconditionally” claims he had committed an offence and also complained of a media “witch hunt”.

'Trial by media'
"I am a public figure and subject to scrutiny and that is fair enough. But the despicable manner in which this issue is being dealt with by the DUP and others, and by some cynical elements of the media, has become trial by media," he said.

Adams also referred to how in December 2009 he disclosed that his father, also called Gerry, emotionally, physically and sexually abused family members over many years.

He said that in 1987 he did not have full information and detail of Aine Adam’s allegations.

“I never had that detail. When Aine raised her abuse by her father with me again years later, she was an adult capable and entitled to make her own decisions on how she wanted to proceed,” he said.

Some of Gerry Adams’s opponents believe that he should have done much more for Aine Adams and that politically this case could fatally wound him. That has not happened so far.

Which is where this sorry tale rests at the moment until Aine Adams, or the Attorney General or the Police Ombudsman, possibly put a different complexion on it.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times