Page last updated at 02:19 GMT, Monday, 21 December 2009

Rare glimpse into private side of Gerry Adams

By Mark Simpson
BBC Ireland Correspondent

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams faces a period of political uncertainty and personal trauma

For a fiercely private politician like Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, the family difficulties facing him could hardly have come at a worse time.

With a question mark hanging over the future of Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive, his crisis-management skills could be stretched to the limit in the coming weeks.

At the same time, he will have to deal with the fall-out from the revelations that his late father, Gerry Adams Snr, abused some members of his own family, and allegations that his brother, Liam Adams, was involved in child abuse.

As the 61-year-old Sinn Fein leader talked about the issues at the weekend in a detailed interview on RTE television, he looked extremely uncomfortable.

The private side of Gerry Adams is normally kept well hidden.

When did you last see a picture of him and his wife Colette? Or hear him talk about his son Gearóid? Or read any of his family secrets?

Personal interview

For the past 30 years, Gerry Adams has been seen across the world talking about the IRA, guns, bombs, the peace process and Stormont politics. His private life has been a closed book.

But Sunday's 29-minute interview with RTE's Tommie Gorman was almost exclusively personal rather than political. The main topic was child abuse.

"It's a huge, huge issue," said Mr Adams, with a long sigh.

"It's probably the most important single personal issue in my life."

When his father, Gerry Adams Snr, died six years ago, he was a much admired figure within Irish republicanism.

Now it has emerged that the veteran republican was a child-abuser.

"I feel betrayed by my father," said the Sinn Fein president.

"I feel that he destroyed whatever good he may have done in other dimensions of his life."

Facing scrutiny

The spotlight on the Adams family comes at a time when child abuse is top of the news agenda in Ireland following a report last month which revealed high levels of abuse by priests in Dublin, and a major cover-up.

One bishop has already resigned, and more could follow.

At the moment, the controversy surrounding the family of Gerry Adams is being seen as a personal rather than a political matter.

However, as the leader of a large political party, he is facing scrutiny, especially in relation to his handling of the allegations against Liam Adams, his younger brother.

Liam Adams has not been seen in Northern Ireland for some time, but police in Belfast want to question him about the alleged abuse of his daughter, Aine, when she was a child.

Gerry Adams was told about the complaints against his brother 20 years ago, so should he have done more to tackle the issue?

Political situation

He insists he did everything he possibly could over the years to help the alleged victim.

The fact that this is all being played out in public will add to the difficulties facing members of the Adams family in general, and Gerry Adams in particular.

Then there is the political situation at Stormont.

Relations between coalition partners Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party reached a new low last week with a public argument in front of the Irish Prime Minister, Brian Cowen.

There is talk of a full-blown crisis at Stormont, and the possible collapse of the power-sharing executive in the new year.

For Gerry Adams, 2009 is ending with a period of political uncertainty and personal trauma.

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