Any electoral fallout of Adams arrest depends on next step

 

The arrest of the leader of a mainstream political party for questioning about the barbaric murder of a mother of 10 is such an unprecedented development that it's impossible to think that, in any other context, that party could avoid an electoral meltdown.

But of course Sinn Féin is no ordinary political party - its historic relationship with the IRA is well documented as is its crucial role in brokering the peace.

Sinn Féin voters can be assumed to take a sceptical view of any allegations aimed at their party leaders.

Even if they believe such claims to be true, they may have already factored in involvement with IRA violence as part and parcel of Northern Ireland's conflict and go on to engage in predictable "whataboutery" - what about the failure to hold inquiries into alleged collusion, what about unionist links to loyalist paramilitaries, and so on.

Assessing the political fallout is, therefore, not straightforward - not least because at the time of writing, Gerry Adams is still being interviewed. The consequences will depend on what happens next.

That said, Sinn Féin's hold on its Northern Ireland European parliament seat is so strong that it's hard to imagine anything shaking it.

Sinn Féin's surge in popularity south of the border (courtesy of the demise of the Irish Labour Party) has put the party on course for three European seats.

Denials

This southern support may prove more permeable than Sinn Féin's hold on its traditional northern strongholds - but equally, if Gerry Adams walks away with no charges arising, the party may attract some sympathy. It certainly hasn't wanted for publicity during this campaign.

The revelation, by Martin McGuinness, that detectives had been discussing Gerry Adams' own writings with the Sinn Féin president took my mind back to the late 1990s, when I spent some long hours in Belfast's Linenhall Library leafing through old copies of An Phoblacht and various other republican pamphlets as part of the research for Man of War, Man of Peace, the Gerry Adams biography I co-authored with David Sharrock.

I don't know what kind of literary criticism the PSNI is engaging in, but, in his 1996 autobiography Before The Dawn, Gerry Adams said: "I must write nothing that would place in jeopardy the liberties or the lives of others" and the abduction and murder of Jean McConville did not merit a mention.

Given Mr Adams' regular denials of IRA membership, one route we and other journalists took was to examine the writings penned under his jail pseudonym of Brownie.

In a number of articles Brownie (described humorously by a fellow prisoner 'Solon' as "a lanky, thin bearded, boggin' excuse for a person") makes no bones about his IRA status.

In Before The Dawn, Gerry Adams incorporated a number of his Brownie articles into his account. However when I questioned him about this he insisted that Brownie was a corporate entity - a pseudonym shared by a number of inmates. Gerry Adams explained that any articles in An Phoblacht that contained clear references to IRA membership were the work of other inmates.

Of course, before we reached our conclusions in Man of War, Man of Peace, David and I talked to lots of others sources - fellow republicans, and police, Army and government sources.

However, for all you literary sleuths out there, I invite you to ponder the fate of a hedgehog found by Brownie whilst on 'sentry duty' in the Whiterock area of west Belfast in the early 1970s.

Brownie brings it back to a safe house and drops it on the sofa before announcing he's going to set the hedgehog free.

"If the Paras catch you, it'll look good in the papers," the woman of the house interjects, "IRA man caught with a hedgehog".

So who wrote this? Brownie Gerry or Brownie AN Other? If it's the latter I think he should sue for royalties as the same piece appears under Gerry Adams' own name in his book Cage Eleven with the single alteration that the initials IRA have been edited out. This may have been a judicious alteration for reasons now under discussion, but rather ruins the hedgehog joke.

 
Mark Devenport Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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