Liam Adams is innocent. He is, you know. The same as you’re innocent and I’m innocent and Uncle Tom Cobley and all are innocent, until proven guilty. But given the amount of coverage his case has been given, if someone today said to you “Liam Adams”, somewhere in the back of your mind the thought might very well tumble around “Oh yeah, he sexually abused his daughter, didn’t he?” That’s what highly-publicised charges of misconduct or crime do: the charge becomes the verdict even before the case has been heard. And don’t tell me people suspend judgment until the decision is made in court regarding guilt or innocence. Supposing it was you who were charged with the crime Liam Adams has been charged with. Do you really believe there wouldn’t be a shift in the way your friends and acquaintances and work-colleagues regarded you? It can’t be said often enough: Liam Adams and every single person charged with a crime is innocent, and stays innocent, until found guilty in a court of law. And sometimes not even then.
Behind the injustice of assumed-guilt lies another injustice: the injustice of guilt by association. I’ve heard and read media reports on Liam Adams’s extradition to the north several times in the course of the past few days, and in every case – in print and on air – the fact that he’s Gerry Adams’s brother is included. What effect does that have? It sets up in the public mind a poisonous equations: child abuse – Liam Adams – Gerry Adams. Somehow the charge against Liam Adams becomes a charge against Gerry Adams.
You think this guilt-by-association idea – or in this case blood-relationship – is a fantasy? In that case, why, when you apply for the role of, say, Prison Visitor, or whatever it’s called now, are you asked to give your parents’s names, including your mother’s maiden name? Or why are there people who’ll tell you “Pat Finucane – he had relatives that were in the IRA, so…” It’s in the blood, you’re related to someone who’s seen as criminal, so clearly you too must be criminal or at the very least have criminal tendencies, better watch out for that guy. It even happens to children. I’ve heard the occasional bone-brained teacher say in the staffroom :“Oh, you have one of the Murphys/Smiths/McStravicks/Whatever this year – God pity you! I taught both the older brothers – they’re a bad lot”.
Could anything be more unjust than to blame people for what their relatives do? Or, as is happening in the Liam Adams case, to form a link in the public mind which you hope will damage a political party.
The law may or may not be a ass. But the way some people manipulate it is venomous.