January 6, 2010
First came the startling news that the republican leader's brother, Liam Adams, was on the run, charged with having sexually abused his daughter for an eight-year period that began when the girl was 4. He was reported to be hiding in the Republic of Ireland and Gerry appealed to his brother to return to Northern Ireland to face the charges lodged against him.
With the story of his brother's alleged abuse receiving significant attention, Gerry then appeared on Ireland's RTE network to disclose that his father, the late Gerry Adams Sr., committed "physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual" abuse against some of the elder Adams's own 10 children. "I myself for a long time wanted this to be publicized because there is a culture of concealment, but we can only do this when everybody is strong enough to do it," Adams said during the stunning RTE interview, adding that the only reason for going public was to aid his family. "We don't do it for any other reason than as a necessary step in the healing process within our own clan," he said.
Adams said he didn't realize that his father was an abuser until a little more than a decade ago, as the family continued to deal with revelations of Liam Adams' alleged abuse of his own daughter. The discussion of one situation led to the discussion of another. "I was almost 50 years old and, up until that point, I thought we were like any other family with a loving father," Adams, 61, told RTE. Adams said the family has spent the past two decades searching for ways to deal with the likelihood that it had two abusers within its midst.
As the details of the abuse stories have emerged, Adams has faced some difficult questions, with some wondering if he and others did enough after learning of the allegations against his brother in 1997. Adams told reporters that his niece's allegations were reported to the proper authorities. The Sinn Fein leader said he took other steps that he thought made sense.
"I told everyone within Liam's limited circle of the allegation made against him. When I discovered in the Belfast situation that he was working in a youth facility, I went to those who had responsibility for that facility and told them of the allegation. He also had RUC or PSNI clearance to work in those facilities. I also pressed Liam to come out of it and in the second case he did what I demanded of him. I'm not suggesting that I handled this perfectly. I now know much, much more about how you handle these issues than I did at the time."
Personally and politically, 2009 was a year of challenge for Adams, who has been a major player in Northern Ireland's Troubles and in its subsequent peace process.
On the political front, Adams's party, Sinn Fein, fared poorly in the European parliament elections, losing the single seat the party held in the Republic of Ireland. Sinn Fein vice president Mary Lou McDonald's loss of her Dublin seat was the latest in a series of blows that Adams and his party have endured south of the Border.
Sinn Fein also struggled in its efforts to bring about the final piece in the Northern Ireland devolution puzzle: the North's power-sharing government taking power of police and judicial functions in the six-county state.
There were calls for change from within the ranks of Sinn Fein and suddenly, almost amazingly, political observers wondered if Adams's 26 years of leadership was coming to an end. As it may be.
But all of this pales in comparison to the personal issues that now beset Adams and his family. Adams, in many ways a private man who has always kept his wife and son out of the limelight, should be commended for his candor and for his being very clear about the carnage and cost of abuse.
Adams said he didn't want his father, himself a republican activist, to have a traditional republican funeral when he died in 2003. "I didn't want him buried with the Tricolor, I think he besmirched it. But it was a dilemma for other members of my family who didn't want this in the open at that time," Adams said during the television interview. He said his father never really owned up to his horrendous deeds after they were revealed in the late 1990s.
"He was in denial for quite a lot of that time," Adams recalled. "This was a man who had a very large family; there were 13 of us. Ten survived, three died at birth or shortly after. He ended up dying a lonely old man where he should have been surrounded by loving family members."
Truly, a chilling and tragic story.