Sinn Fein and the problem of speaking in the south?

Frank Little had a conversation with a Sinn Fein activist friend yesterday after the wee four debate. It seems I am in a very, very small minority in thinking Adams had done well:

…the conversation naturally turned to the election, and in particular the debate the night before where Adams had got what by any definition was a bit of a thrashing on Prime Time. “When,” my old friend wondered aloud, “will Adams and all the other Northerners realise that no-one down here, including our voters, gives a shit about the Peace Process?”

In fact he reckons, and it has been said time out of number in the souther blogosphere since, that Adams should not have ‘taken the brief’:

The baffling thing is that the Shinners have people who can do this. Ó Caoláin might be long-winded….is long winded, but he is also articulate and has the instinctive grasp of Southern politics that comes with being a native. Mary Lou can be good, and can be a bit too given to reciting platitudes until the producer forces a camera switch, but she also understands the issues. To a lesser extent, Morgan and Ó Snodaigh out of their Dáil team can manage not to cover themselves in shame.

Yet bizarrely, a man who clearly knows very little about politics here is sent out to debate two of the most experienced and articulate political leaders in modern Ireland. He strove manfully to get everything back to the peace process, but it didn’t work.

He adds two caveats:

Firstly, I think people down here do ‘give a shit’ about the Peace Process. Not the technicalities of it, but they want peace, they want a functioning Executive and they are delighted to see Paisley and McGuinness sitting down together. I don’t think it would make your average voter put a stroke next to Sinn Féin, but it might mean he or she would consider it where before they would not. I think my friend underestimates the importance of the Peace Process to opening up space for Sinn Féin to move into in the South. I think Adams & Co woefully overestimate how important it is.

Secondly, Adams is popular. He and Bertie seem to always be the two party leaders with the highest satisfaction ratings, not necessarily a measurement of popularity, but still reports from the canvass trail, especially the Roisín Ingle article in the Times referring to people weeping when they met him, suggest he has a level of charisma that only Bertie maybe can match. In this context, does it matter if he performs poorly if he is ‘a statesman’? Is the image of Adams on television more important that whatever the voter will remember in a week’s time walking into the polling station?

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  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    Interesting argument Mick, highlighting the fact that modern-day politics is more about personality and image than such dull topics as policies.

    Understandable in a way, particularly in Britain where policy differences generally range from wafer-thin to non-existent.

    But the point needs to be made that the majority of spectators at Gerry’s lamentable autocue performance the other night WERE voters interested in policies, and few will have been impressed.

  • BOM

    Mick what do you think?

    Is personality and image more important within today’s political arena than policies and who speaks the most sense?

    I am just wondering this because it would be good information for those who are seeking to review their role and their way forward in politics – in particular the UUP and the SDLP!

  • Mick Fealty

    I think I have probably blogged/commented my fair share today. I should really stand aside and let someone else have the last word for a change.

  • SuperSoupy


    Something that really rings home for me in recent weeks is the ‘fact’ it is very difficult to find serious or unbiased comment, particularly in comments fields, during elections.

    Just like Slugger’s comment and linked stories mostly drifted off into the realms of often absurd political bias during the Assembly election one of the places least likely to have objective analysis of the southern election is southern websites.

    With a week to go and a very close run thing transpiring you’ll get a lot of heat but very little light by examining the views of concerned anoraks.

    An interesting day ahead as it all plays out on the 25th but at this late stage there’ll be little of value for the analyst coming from the blog world.

    It’s chomping at the bit for results time.

  • Aaron McDaid

    It’s true that Adams didn’t perform great on the debate, but he wouldn’t have lost any votes either. The others didn’t score any points against Adams, not even McDowell. It just seemed to be Rabitte and Sargent against McDowell most of the time.

    Many of those voting SF for the first time in this election will be doing so despite noticing that Adams didn’t perform well. The don’t care if Adams himself doesn’t know the details because they know the TDs will be on the ball. The peace process has got them a lot of credibility, and people want to see what they can do in the South too.

  • Henry94

    Adams who is not a candidate for the Dail did exactly what a Sinn Fein President should do in my view. He articulated the principles which underpin the policy of the party throughout the island.

    The others, who are candidates, understandably concentrated on an argument about the budget and policies. Next time there is a case for letting the Sinn Fein candidate for Taoiseach (whoever she may be) take part in the debate while continuing to use Adams in a Presidential type role in the campaign.

    That way the Sinn Fein campaign would have a extra dimension rather than appear to be missing one.

  • Glen Taisie

    The beard (no longer dyed)is at his best on the cuddly chat shows such as the Kelly Show or the Late Late.

    His recent performances on the BBCNI pre election Spotlight (March 07) and Wednesday’s Prime Time saw him struggle in an arena which should have been his natural home.

    More thought required for his television appearances.

  • GavBelfast

    Conversely, I thought he appeared very awkward on Gerry Kelly’s programme a couple of years ago – he looked very uncomfortable with the whole thing, almost as if the non-combative environment was simply not something he was used to.

    Funny how things appear different to all of us!

  • I think that this election is simply part of a progressive path for Sinn Fein in terms of it’s overall strategy on the island.

    I further believe that a significant new development has taken place since the restoration of the Assembly several weeks ago. The South of Ireland has now become the primary focus for the party on the island as a whole. This is very significant, in that, acheiving electoral success in The North has always taken the primary role over the past two decades. SF now believe that the North’s Nationalist mandate is effectively “sewn-up” and that there will be no tangible challenge from the SDLP for perhaps, many years to come.

    The party is now fully concentrated on acheiving new electoral successes in The South to strengthen its base and influence in the next Dail. I dont expect that they realistically believe that they will be part of any coalition government after next weeks election. However they will be hoping to double their current representation by picking up additional seats in both Leinster and Ulster constituencies.

  • 007

    Sadly I do think that personality counts for maybe more than it should these days. However, part of being an effective public representative is being able to get across a message that is based on clear thinking. For a long while now Gerry has shown himself to be far from “statesman-like” and more unsettled and unsure of what he is saying. IMO, voters like to think their representatives know what they’re talking about and are not going to be ruffled when under the spotlight. Quite simply, it looks unprofessional.

  • Gerry Lvs Castro

    ‘The peace process has got them a lot of credibility, and people want to see what they can do in the South too.’

    Credibility? They’ve stopped murdering innocent people and accepted the Unionist veto. Or to put it another way, they’ve suppressed their psychopathic tendencies and are accepting democratic realities. For most in the south, this does not equate to either statesmanship or electability.

    As for Adams himself, a good friend of mine was murdered at the La Mon Hotel — considered by the Belfast ‘commander’ (whoever that may have been) to be a ‘legitimate target’, presumably for the heinous crime of being devoted to her dogs. Very little of her was brought home and even less justice was done.

    The sight of Adams grinning benevolently from a thousand election posters country-wide brings it all back. And not just to me.

  • IJP


    What programme were you watching?!

    Just as in the North:
    1. Adams was atrocious, particularly on real issues;
    2. it won’t matter.

  • IJP


    Do you not think “Romantic Ireland” will see SF home with a number of seats perhaps in the teens?

    In fact, do you agree with me that they’d win even more if they stopped banging on about getting serious about a United Ireland?

  • Che Adams

    IJP — Sorry but I don’t see anything remotely ‘romantic’ about blowing shoppers to pieces, shooting retired policemen in the back and burying innocents in bogs. I’m entirely at a loss as to why anyone would vote for this sorry shower.

    As for winning ‘even more’ if they stopped ‘banging on’ about a united Ireland, exactly what policies would they be left with? A bunch of loony-left uncosted fantasies designed to return Ireland to it’s status as an economic backwater? You tell me.

  • kensei

    I think Mick got it right when he said Adams focussed on values, values, values. Advertisers will tell you that people need to see an advert six times before they remember it. There is a line with the avoidance issue but means people can remember negatively rather than positively, of course. I think Gerry just got about away with it because of the bickering of the other participants. People know SF aren’t going to get a majority, they know they won’t even be the leading party in coalition, so a certain section of left leaning voters would be less worried about precise budget details and more about an equality agenda being pushed. Who will they remember – Adams talking consistently about rights, or Rabitte bogged down in policy detail?

    He wasn’t brilliant by any stretch, and the noting checking was painful at times, but I don’t think he looked particularly out of place.

  • redhaze


    Oh dear. I bet you are ever so embarassed with busting out Micks analysis of the debate between Adams, McDowell, Rabbitte, and Sargeant now.

    “Red Haze,

    If you think that Adams fluffed it you were watching a different debate methinks… This was Mick Fealty’s analysis of the debate (on another thread”.

    Now even Mick is forced to admit that:

    “It seems I am in a very, very small minority in thinking Adams had done well”.

    And I think that is much closer to the truth. Adams was woeful…again.

  • SuperSoupy

    Result of the final RedC poll for tomorrow’s SBP:

    FF 36 (+1)
    FG 27 (-2)
    LAB 11 (-1)
    GREENS 8 (+2)
    SG 10 (+3)
    PD’s 2(-1)
    Inds 6(-2)

  • Henry94

    Looks like Adams won the debate after all. Hats off to Mr Fealty.

  • SuperSoupy


    Fair assessment, this week RedC polled on Thurs/Fri so the debates would be reflected.

    There’s another one due from IMS for the Sindo, I’ll stick the figures up once get them.

  • SuperSoupy

    The results of the other poll will available from 1900 on for the anoraks.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks, but I think your praise is a little too generous Henry. For the record, here’s what I wrote the night of the debate:

    Adams undoubtedly the winner in my book. McD though scored well on the Colombia drugs point. Adams seemed to stop goading him after that. The thing about both is they have a base that react oppositely from one another. Sargent for me was better than Rabbit, but I’d say my instincts there might be questionable since I’m not so familiar with either the personalities or the character of their political bases.

    McDowell dealt poorly (actually not at all) with Adams’s stuff on Health, almost as though he wasn’t prepared for it, which looked a bit weird. Adams’ weak point was reading from notes on the tax issues. He just about pulled it off (mostly because there was no serious counterattack), but it made him look like it just wasn’t familiar enough with the affairs of the State.

    The connect point for Adams though may be the topical mention of suicide.

    There were other things that I think pulled down his contribution in the terms that people here have already used. But I said at the time that I was judging each (so far as I was able) against their communication with the target audience.

    One thing Adams got right that the others fell down on is that policy detail doesn’t really move ordinary voters. It’s values, values, values… When he didn’t know what the question meant he simply said, ‘these are matters that will be dealt with in due course’… If he was head to heading it with Bertie, he’d have gotten ripped to shreds, but he wasn’t and he didn’t…

    One thing I would say is that there is limited mileage in pushing this idea that Sinn Fein politicians get ‘the average industrial wage’. People on the average industrial wage in the Republic these days don’t own two houses. Or UK tax payers (as I presume Gerry is) telling other politicians who live and work in the Republic, that the tax take in the south is not their money does not gone down well either. It didn’t matter this time, because in some ways you have to keep thinking about the parties core audience. But I suspect lines like that will have a very limited shelf life.

  • Martin

    I thought it was a poor performance and can’t figure why someone like Sean Crowe wasn’t put forward who would have a good knowledge of things on the ground in the south–like it or not while the average young southern voter is sympathetc to the idea of Irish unity-it comes down the list compared to affordable housing,health and the euro in his/her pocket–thats the reality and its understandable

  • SuperSoupy

    Figures from tomorrow’s Sindo IMS poll:

    FF 37 (+2)
    FG 25 (-1)
    LAB 12 (-1)
    Greens 8 (no change)
    SF 9 (-1)
    PD 3 (no change)
    Ind 9 (+1)

  • Southern Observer

    I thought Adams was dire.I intend voting for everyone on the ballot – with the exception of the shinners.

  • 007

    “…policy detail doesn’t really move ordinary voters…”

    Surely that depends Mick? If they are to be successful, politicians need to be able to connect with the electorate “Getting the message across” might depend to a large extent effective spinning of sound bites and glossy literature but sometimes that’s not always possible. Voters are not stupid and when they have a personal interest with a particular issue they will take the time to learn all about it in full. Whether it’s the “grey” vote, the “green” vote, the “student” vote, the “lower taxes” vote or another single issue of the day like council tax, rate etc, people will take the time to learn about it and often in great detail. For the record, I think Gerry has been found wanting on quite a few occasions now but, really…, will it matter? Gerry has the best “United Ireland” vote out there and in the North it counts for everything with Nationalists. However away from that, he is very poor indeed and voters in the South aren’t so forgiving.

  • I read over all the bigger parties and Sinn Féin’s election manifesto’s (where so available) and I really have to say I am most impressed with Sinn Féin’s and really hope they do well and have an influence on politics in the republic. This is despite just days ago decrying them (during a discussion of current events my french clas) as muderer’s who helped keep the North in a state of terror and division and poverty for years. Am I now a hypocryte?

  • I think there’s a point to those who say that Adams didn’t perform as well as he might in the candidates debate – but he has a presence the others didn’t have which still means alot to viewers. And because he was being attacked so foolishly by McDowell, a hate figure in the south, he will always do well in those circumstances. Now the poll results seem to bear this out – the SBP ones.

  • SuperSoupy


    Those that highlight polls on Slugger will ignore now there is a steady trend for SF growth.

    It’s the narrative setting we are all meant to believe doesn’t exist.

    Assume Pete will multi-multi-link the SF rise and then click on a lunar eclipse/art work story.


  • Ondine

    What I love me the most is all the anti-Republican commentators who think that 1916 was a terrible mistake saying “Adams should fuck off out of our Irish politics because he’s a Brit.”

  • Mick Fealty


    You’d be better arguing your point rather than trying to settle scores. Just because Pete’s a blogger doesn’t mean he can’t be challenged on the substance of what he says, or that correctives cannot be inserted. But simply claiming bias at every possible opportunity is distracting from the substance of any argument. Or is that the point? If so, it just comes over as the kind of blatant spin from party hacks you were so critical of yesterday.

    To be honest, the polls mean less and less in terms of the smaller parties the movements are always well within the +/-3% margin of error. Today’s two polls have SF going up and down at the same time. Pay your money, make your choice. The unanswerable question is how tight will the gap be between the two main coalitions? And then, will SF have enough seats to bridge the gap?

    I reckon you will get a decent reposte for your party’s critics on Thursday. As I said to Pat McLarnon two years ago, your party’s progress will come almost entirely from hard graft, and not through any help from the media. As I see it, even if you don’t get the balance of power this time out, you have the beginning of the transformation of the front bench, and a plethora of new, young, articulate southerners, including the two Donegal wans, either or both of whom could be handy enough spokesmen on Northern Ireland.

  • páid

    The point about the average industrial wage is not it’s voter appeal per se, but the fact that it helps eliminate careerists from the candidate ranks.

    SF’s candidates are younger, keener, poorer, straighter.

    And I’ve noticed a marked reluctance by the Shinners to run candidates who are not young, keen, poor and straight.

    They haven’t gone for the quick-fix, they’re playing a long game, and they’re starting to win.

  • Mary

    I thought Adams was dire.I intend voting for everyone on the ballot – with the exception of the shinners.

    Posted by Southern Observer on May 19, 2007 @ 09:35 PM

    If anyone wants anyone but a certain candidate getting in then vote all the way down the ballot paper which is the whole purpose of the ->Single< - transferable vote. (Emphasis mine)For all you simpletons on the Irish Independent letters page here goes.You make your choice.If it is for an unsuccessful candidate and they are eliminated the vote is ->transferred<- (again, emphasis mine) to the next candidate remaining. Should there be no next preference that vote is then wasted.Should your candidate get elected and have a surplus that can make a difference to the election of the next candidate then the votes are counted and the surplus is divided in proportion to next expressed preference.Were all the letters page asleep in civics class?

  • Mick Fealty


    I was not advising that they dump the system. But it has limited appeal to voters for the reasons laid out above.

  • SuperSoupy

    Tomorrow’s poll results from the Irish Times (courtesy of

    FF up five to 41
    FG down one to 27
    Labour down three to 10
    SF down one to 9
    Greens up one to 6
    PDs 2

  • Roisin

    I think SF should dump the average industrial wage policy, or consider adjusting it to correspond with the roles, responsibilities and amount of work that people actually do. Quite honestly, it’s unfair to pay everyone the same, without regard to the levels and amount of work they perform.

    It has limited appeal to voters, and, while it may not hinder the devout, it’s got to be off-putting to those whose abilities they could benefit from who simply couldn’t afford to take the pay cut.

  • sammaguire

    FF 41%!! We haven’t gone away y’know!