Mary Lou to battle for her party’s life in European elections?

In his Irish Examiner column, Stephen King casts an eye over last week’s poll data and reckons that Sinn Fein is facing nothing less than its own Stalingrad south of the border:

The leadership’s response is a rare revamp of the frontbench. Donegal-based West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty, vice-president since John Joe McGirl’s death in 1988 — and just three years Gerry Adams’s senior — has been put out to grass.

In his place, in a tacit admission that the party needs to build support outside Ulster, the members will be asked — or told — to approve the nomination of Mary Lou McDonald. Not bad for a 39-year-old who was in Fianna Fáil only a few years back. Bonus — no-one accuses her of ever having sat on the IRA army council.

In other circumstances, Gerry Adams might be applauded for putting some distance between the party and its paramilitary roots. The painful reality, though, is that every single stop has to be pulled out to save Mary Lou’s European seat. If she were to lose it, as she did the battle in Dublin Central in 2007, the grey beards might conclude she has the smell of political death about her. Don’t bet on another 21-year stint as vice-president.

For once, the party is being brutally honest about its prospects. “Our objective is to retain the two seats that we hold,” Adams confesses. With three serious unionist candidates running in the North, Bairbre de Brún will walk home, possibly topping the poll. For Mary Lou, though, it’s an uphill battle, compounded by the fact that the constituency is shrinking from a four-seater to a three-seater. There’s a Fine Gael seat and, more than likely, a Fianna Fáil seat, although if their 13% poll rating is reflected in real votes, nothing can be taken for granted.

That leaves one more to fill and if Labour is doing as well as some polls suggest, that could mean curtains for Mary Lou. She will have to milk her status as the strongest anti-Lisbon candidate for all it’s worth — at a time when being anti-Lisbon isn’t as fashionable as it was a few months back.

Curtains for Mary Lou, of course, means curtains for Sinn Féin’s hopes of being anything more than a bit player on the Southern scene for years to come. Dublin really will be Stalingrad for the 26-county operation.

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