Gerry Adams has never really been one to live up to expectations but here he is, doing the inevitable and releasing a book based on his “eccentric” Twitter account. The news is almost disappointing in its banality. It seems that every Instagram celebrity or trendy Tumblr eventually puts out a book of their collected works, as if somehow the platform on which they became famous never actually happened and books are still relevant.
But I digress.
Gerry Adams’ Twitter account is a masterclass in political communication. Yes, it’s easy to forget that there’s still a politician behind all of this, as Adams is indeed the President of Sinn Féin and not just some chump on the internet. Not that you’d know it from the hysterical blathering in the media every time he mentions his Ted or revives Gaelic by fusing it with internet speak. It’s all the more infuriating to see it resurfacing now.
Of course, all snark aside, Adams remains a deeply controversial and infuriatingly complicated figure. Entwined with Ireland’s violent past but also partly credited with bringing about the peace the island currently enjoys, he remains as difficult to pin down as ever. Which only goes to show how important it is to question his tactics when he receives media attention for publishing a thing like this.
Indeed, the occasion of his new book is a perfect example of his strategy, coming at a time when then the excitement over an old man having fun online had almost subsided and with Adams in danger of becoming a politician again. Adams may try and sell it otherwise, but in the lead up to the Irish general election (accompanied by an uncharacteristically boring flurry of tweets endorsing candidates across the country), the timing of its publication is so transparent that it’s almost not even worth pointing out.
This is nothing new, as the most particularly bizarre posts always appear at distracting times. The Adams Twitter craze really kicked off last year after he announced that he trampolines naked with his dog. This was timed in such a way that it overshadowed the debate over Sinn Féins hypocrisy in their discussions over Westminster imposed welfare cuts in Northern Ireland while simultaneously opposing austerity in the Republic, as Henry McDonald helpfully explained.
Sinn Féin is aiming to be the largest party in Ireland and stand out as one of the main voices in the opposition to the water charges in the south, continuing to champion anti-austerity policies as part of the broader movement sweeping across Europe. It’s good that there is at least one major dissenting voice and a lot of their policies are quite progressive, but they are still finding it difficult to break into new demographics because of old prejudices.
Any recent successes are in spite of rather than because of Adams’ leadership, and indeed it is the younger members of the party who are making the main inroads. This is less the case in the north where Martin McGuinness remains ever visible as Deputy First Minister. However, Adams is still the face of Sinn Féin on both sides of the border and as such he has a responsibility over the image he projects how he affects the wider party.
Adams’ bizarre Twitter presence has certainly had an impact, risking supporters feeling embarrassed by their leader’s eccentricity. Opponents are unsettled by the man they believe to be responsible for numerous killings during the Troubles seemingly being able to brush off such persistent rumours with a few well timed rubber ducks and soft toys. Others have called his sanity into question while some commentators argue that this is exactly what he’d want you to think.
Gerry Adams was always a master of judging the current mood and exploiting it, successfully taking Sinn Féin to respectability and moving away from the violent tactics of the I.R.A. at a time when it was politically expedient. The tweets soften his bullish image, one that still has the “whiff of cordite” about him. If he is able to drive conversation away from his past and have it focus on this new cuddly image he is cultivating for himself then perhaps he can finally allow Sinn Féin itself to be seen in a new light by new swathes of the electorate.
But of course this only leads to more tough questions about how we continue to deal with the legacy of the Troubles. A far reaching piece in The New Yorker last year addressed many of Adams’ shady ties to the I.R.A., and goes into depth about the role he played himself. But once we start down this route it unravels the whole peace process itself. These are questions that still don’t have any easy answers, but by blithely retweeting Adams’ nonsense we’re not even asking the questions at all.
There have been some attempts to address these concerns, with Waterford Whispers News coming closest to taking apart the disturbing nature of Adams’ newfound popularity in a piece that decodes the secret messages in his tweets. And perhaps it is with satire that we have the strongest chance of dealing with our past, though the current local methods of just slapping a meme on the news and publicly shaming criminals shows us how far we still have to go.
When asked about his role in the armed conflict, Adams has said, “I’m very, very clear about my denial of I.R.A. membership. But I don’t disassociate myself from the I.R.A.” Whatever that means. Maybe satire is useless in Northern Ireland as real life is as much of a joke as anything we could ever come up with. Besides, Gerry got there first by denying he’d ever been a member of ISIS. Fuck sake.
Whether his denials are skillful semantics, true on a technicality, or simply outright lies remains to be decisively proven and it is unlikely that anything resembling the truth will come out until after Adams’ death. Though his links to the I.R.A. are clear when laid out all in one place in an article such as Keefe’s, he nevertheless emerged as one of the main brokers in the Northern Irish Peace process and one of the strongest advocates for a new peaceful Ireland. Trading on this new image, Adams was able to carve out a respectable political career north of the border and has now broadened his sights to the south, perhaps as far as Taoiseach.
Adams himself has addressed the criticism over his Twitter tactics by saying, “I listen to some of those things that are said about my twittering by journalists who have never talked to me in their lives. It becomes a sinister Sinn Féin plan. It’s just me. If people think it’s stupid, they can.” Perhaps this is the most sensible take on the Adams Twitter phenomenon. It is very plausible that this is “just him”. There is nothing to suggest that being an accomplished political negotiator, a peace-mongering statesman, or an alleged terrorist (or a combination of all three) precludes you from having a wacky sense of humour. Of course the decision to allow these tweets to become public is a strategic decision, but it’s not a zero sum game. Why can’t Gerry Adams like both rubber ducks and Republicanism?
It remains to be seen what the ultimate effect Adams’ larking around will be once the elections come around, but the strategy has worked. He is already described as “the Louth TD known for his whimsical style on Twitter,” which is presumably better than being linked to any ‘disappearances.’ However, in the year of the Easter Rising centenary celebrations, Sinn Féin aren’t making it any easier for themselves if they’re truly trying to move on from the violence of the past.
The release of My Little Book of Tweets has thrust Gerry Adams’ shenanigans back into our news feeds at a politically interesting time. When placed in the context of the current attempts to reframe 1916, Adams recreating himself in Cher’s image comes across as yet another attempt by our politicians to control the past.
Ultimately, Gerry Adams is playing us all. Any thinkpiece, listicle or book signing that comes out of this is only serves to distract from the more pressing issues. And besides, friends don’t let friends post such lame-ass tweets so why is it funny when Gerry Adams does it? When the joke is simply a politician using the internet, we need to wise up.