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?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty