“It is the biggest crowd I have seen at a book launch since the reissue of Lady Chatterley’s lover,” joked Brian Garrett last night at the Ulster Museum.
The retired lawyer and veteran Labour Party member made the comment as he chatted with other guests at the unveiling of Malachi O’Doherty’s new book on Gerry Adams.
The work, ‘Gerry Adams – An unauthorised life,’ was introduced by a talk from the Dublin writer Fintan O’Toole.
He began his address by saying that Sinn Fein had been compared to North Korea.
“The comparison’s unfair – North Korea’s had three leaders over the last 34 years,” said Mr O’Toole to laughter.
He said that “it has almost been taken for granted that we don’t know so much about what Gerry Adams did, who he really is and was.
“Radio interviewers, TV interviewers don’t even bother to ask the question any more unless it arises in a very specific context.
“And they know if they do ask the questions they will not get anything like straight answers.”
In his 10-minute talk, Mr O’Toole added: “The subject of the book is difficult, the attempt to tell as much truth as it can be told is difficult, and yet the reading of the book, although it is not easy, gives the kind of excitement, the kind of drama, even pleasure that you get of writing of a very high quality.”
Mr O’Doherty then spoke, to say that he started in journalism in 1971, and this book felt like something his career had led up to.
Looking at the size of the crowd at last night’s launch, he said it “humbles me and embarrasses me that you have such expectations of this book”.
He paid tribute to Joe Hendron in the audience, whose 1992 election defeat of Mr Adams “forced the decision that Sinn Fein would take pre-eminence over the IRA”.
Mr O’Doherty said the book tries to understand the character of “this extraordinary man” Mr Adams, including his “vanity,” and said it is “exasperating that Gerry Adams will not acknowledge that he was a member of the IRA, but routinely denies it”.
Mr O’Doherty said that it was a paradox that many IRA men do not consider him to have been an IRA man.
• The book is published by Faber & Faber, £14.99