Child abuse scandal rocks Irish republican leader Gerry Adams

Irish republican leader Gerry Adams, once seen as a likely future president of Ireland, stands accused of failing to protect children from sexual predators after his niece said she was abused by his brother. It could derail his political career.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Newscom/File
Gerry Adams, pictured in this March 16 file photo.

Irish politics, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, has been thrown into turmoil again – but not over bombs and bullets. Instead, a child abuse scandal focused on the brother of Gerry Adams, the leader of Irish republicanism, has left Mr. Adams fighting for his political life.

On Friday, Adams's niece, Áine Tyrell, appeared on a television documentary and claimed she had, from the age of 4, been repeatedly raped by her father, minor republican figure Liam Adams, who went on to be a youth worker for up to 22 years. In a subsequent television interview, Gerry Adams admitted he had known of the allegations since 1987 and called on his brother Liam to hand himself in to police.

Ireland, still reeling from the revelation that the state had shielded pedophile priests from investigation and conviction, was shocked by the allegations. And now, the man once seen as a likely future president of Ireland stands accused of failing to protect children from sexual predators. It's a charge that could derail his political career in a land where the Irish Republican Army (IRA) has, in the past, shot to death suspected child abusers.

"Adams has nowhere else to go," says Paddy Hoey, a journalism lecturer who is studying for a PhD in press representation of Irish republicanism at Liverpool University's Institute of Irish Studies. "There only was one option, a tilt at the presidency of Ireland. What cultural or political cachet does Adams have for Sinn Féin now? And philosophically he's not driving them either, he's always been an opportunist."

Mr. Hoey predicts that there will be more personal consequences for Gerry Adams and that, ultimately, he will resign.

Others say Adams will live to fight another day, but warn that the saga will damage his party. Sinn Féin is the second-largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Anthony McIntyre, a former IRA member turned staunch critic of Sinn Féin, says Gerry Adam's behavior is unacceptable but it won't threaten his position as party leader. "He's behaved worse than the bishops implicated in covering-up sex abuse in the Catholic Church, [but] the [party] grassroots are so servile and bovine that they will see him as the victim," he says. "He has already shifted the focus of victimhood from Áine to his wider family.

But, he adds, there will be serious political consequences, however, for Adams's Sinn Féin Party. "It won't help Sinn Féin electorally in the South [the Republic of Ireland] but they can't get rid of him. The party will not expand [any further] in the South – they'll be seen as wrapped up in their own lies."

Gerry Adams is alleged to have personally supported his brother Liam in his bid to be nominated as a Sinn Féin election candidate in 1997 and was photographed at his wedding which occurred after Adams had been directly told of the allegations against him. Adams claims he was estranged from his brother, had him ejected from Sinn Féin, and informed his employers about the child abuse.

Liam Adams turned himself in to police two days ago. However, Irish police were not in a position to arrest him as they did not have a European arrest warrant. A warrant is now being prepared by the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

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