Fintan O’Toole: Tough questions for Adams on child protection

Opinion: SF wouldn’t tolerate evasive answers from other party leaders

In March 1987, Gerry Adams went to Buncrana to meet his niece Áine and her mother. They told him Áine’s father, Gerry’s brother Liam, had sexually abused her from the age of four. On his own account, he fully believed these allegations, though he “didn’t want to know the detail”.

He was aware, as he told his brother’s trial, “a person who would do such a thing is a danger to other children”. He was “very conscious, on the foot of such an allegation, that one has to protect other minors”.

Liam Adams by now had another young daughter with another woman. But Gerry Adams did not contact social services or the Garda in Donegal. On his return to Belfast next day, he did speak to a social worker who had been assigned to his brother’s family. He told her nothing about the abuse.

In a TV interview in 2009, Gerry Adams said two things about what happened subsequently that were radically untrue. He said Liam Adams left Ireland and “basically he was out of my life more or less for about the next 15 years”. (He admitted under oath that “I concede it might not have been for 15 years; I acknowledge clearly and I have never failed to do so that I was in contact with him”.)

In fact, Liam Adams got four different jobs between 1997 and 2006 that gave him unsupervised access to children and young people in two different areas where Sinn Féin has a very strong presence and in constituencies that Gerry Adams has represented: the Muirhevnamor estate in Dundalk and west Belfast.

For most of this period, Gerry Adams knew with certainty that the allegations against his brother were true – in 2000, Liam Adams privately admitted to Gerry that he had molested his daughter.

Gerry Adams told the trial that he knew his brother was working with children in their “mid- to late-teens” in Dundalk. (Ironically, Liam Adams, described as a “youth community worker”, was quoted in the Irish Independent in July 1998, alleging there was a paedophile ring in Dundalk: “We have names of well-known business people who we are 100 per cent sure are involved.”)

He also knew Liam Adams subsequently worked with the youth club operated by Clonard monastery in Belfast, with which he himself had very close ties.

He claimed at the trial he told a priest (by then deceased) about his brother’s history of abuse. Clonard Youth Centre issued a statement saying that it had no record of anyone giving it information on Liam Adams’s history.

Dumped out

In December 2009, Gerry Adams told RTÉ radio that when, in 1997, he discovered Liam Adams was seeking a Sinn Féin nomination to run in Louth, “I moved immediately both to stop that and to get him dumped out of Sinn Féin without telling people why”.

The truth is that Liam Adams was never “dumped out of Sinn Féin”. A statement in the party’s own newspaper, An Phoblacht, in 2010 acknowledged Liam Adams remained active in “republican circles” and that he in fact became chairman of Sinn Féin’s Lower Andersonstown cumann for some years after 2000. The same statement also said, remarkably, that Gerry Adams was not aware his brother was the head of a cumann in his own constituency. I do not think that claim is credible.

At any point between 1987 and 2009, when he eventually made a statement to the PSNI, Gerry Adams, if he did not trust the police in Northern Ireland, could have gone to the Garda or to social services in the Republic, where Liam Adams worked for two significant periods with teenagers. He did not do so.

Into this context came a second disclosure of sexual abuse to Gerry Adams. In 2000, Maíria Cahill had several meetings with him in which, she says, she told that she had been repeatedly raped by a senior IRA figure. This time, the allegations acquired a specifically political dimension – one of which both the British and Irish governments must have been aware.

Restorative justice

At the time, as a quid pro quo for not kneecapping people, the IRA was being given significant involvement in the justice system through a scheme called community restorative justice.

In a 2005 public submission, the SDLP specifically referred to a report in the Sunday World in 2000 that a senior IRA figure in community restorative justice was an alleged rapist. This reference was to Maíria Cahill’s allegations.

It is inconceivable that Gerry Adams was not aware both of Ms Cahill’s allegations and of their political import. Yet we are supposed to believe he never asked her about the details of the case.

If Enda Kenny, Micheál Martin, Joan Burton or Peter Robinson had this abysmal record on child protection and this history of evasive answers, we know what Sinn Féin would have to say about it.

That not one of the party’s strong-minded women can manage to say it about Gerry Adams is deeply creepy. If you think ordinary cronyism is bad, consider what this party will do to protect one of its own.