Jude Collins

Monday, 21 December 2009

The family way

And so the Gerry Adams/ child sexual abuse saga rumbles on, gathering muck on its wheels. Today’s Irish News comes hard on the heels of Saturday’s Irish Times with a front-page story on Mr Adams’s (of COURSE they mispunctuated it as ‘Adams’ ‘ - what do you think they are, literate?) father’s abuse of his family – in Gerry’s words, ‘physical, emotional, mental and sexual’ and a four-page spread inside. The story also led on the RTE news last night and, I\m told, Channel 4 news as well. So why did Gerry Adams come out with these revelations about his father, and was he right to do so?

He came out with them, I suspect, because he was under media pressure from the case of his niece Áine, who claims that her father, Gerry’s brother, sexually abused her as a child. The media fell on this story like the proverbial ravening wolves, and clearly in some instances at least did their damnedest to somehow discredit Gerry Adams as well as his brother. It may be that Gerry, who can be a consummate media performer, decided to use the story of his father’s abuse as a spectacular addition to the Adams-and-child-abuse story, so increasing the chances that the media would respond to it in a way that’d show him in a favourable light. Certainly last night's RTE interview evoked sympathy for the Sinn Fein president and his siblings, and their efforts to cope with a father who appears to have been a destructive force.

But that second question: was Mr Adams right to reveal so much unfavourable information about his father? In terms of political self-defence, you could argue he was. Unfortunately, however effective this story proves for public perception of the Sinn Fein president, it also encourages the media in the belief that the private life of politicians here (or anywhere else) is legitimate prey for reporters.

Why should it be? Only if the politician is, say, a stout proponent in his political life of family values and then turns out to be someone who shows contempt for family values in his personal life, would his private life be of concern. We elect politicians because we believe they will be effective public representatives – that is, good at their job. Likewise with brain surgeons, dentists, accountants, plumbers, rat-catchers: we hire them because we believe they will be effective at the job they do, give us value for money. I have never in my life checked on the private life, sexual or otherwise, of my doctor, dentist, accountant, etc. In God’s name, why should I? I’m not looking for a boy scout or a saint to tend my teeth – I want a professional, and what he (or she) does the rest of the time I really don’t care.

Probing into the private life of politicians can be great fun and may even be what a lot of people prefer to the tedious examination of party policies, but that doesn’t make it right. So even though this story will probably end in greater public sympathy for Gerry Adams, he still shouldn’t have aired it.

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