Nationalism: If your vision is thwarted then it may be time to redraw your parameters…

If the first three years of this blog was largely about charting the crisis in Unionism, the last four have undoubtedly been and locating and examining the (corresponding?) crisis in Nationalism. It seems my mildly provocative piece suggesting that Gerry Adams find some way of making his position as leader of Sinn Fein contestable, even suggesting this may be the right moment to retire has brought a firm reply from the man himself, with one of his most focused posts on Leargas to date:

This activist has no intention of resigning. There is much to be done. As citizens face greater economic punishment at the hands of an incompetent Dublin government and as rejectionists in the north gear up for more negativity our duty is face the future with confidence and to stand up for decent politics, fairness and equality. And a reunited Ireland. That is what leadership is about. The time for republican politics is now.

Adams accepts there has been a back draft though, particularly in the south:

Sinn Féin certainly faces challenges. But that is what struggle is about and the party is debating the issues involved in an open and thorough way. I am absolutely confident that we will conclude that debate over the summer and face into what will be a winter of discontent in the wider political systems on this island, in a united and intelligent way.

The resignations of a small number of Sinn Féin councillors has also been seized upon by our detractors in a futile attempt to promote their flawed analysis. Sure these resignations are disappointing. But that’s politics. Those involved have their own reasons for resigning, mainly sited in local issues. That is their choice – the wrong choice in my view but that’s the way it goes and it’s hardly the end of Sinn Féin.

Niall O’Dowd also takes issue with my line of argument, and echoes some of those articulated in the original Slugger thread that:

Adams needs to stay for the future of Sinn Fein and the peace process. Right now there is a determined challenge from a hardline republican group to the peace process. Adams is needed, as always, to steady the grassroots and show the way forward.


The fact is that with Eirigi and others like them around the peace deal is not yet cemented; the last nails have not been hammered in the coffin of the bad old days.
You only have to go back to this month’s marching season incidents to see how fraught it can become so quickly. The Sinn Fein leadership has navigated through far harder shoals than this but you never know what could cause the seams to start ripping apart. This is no time for Adams to go.

Adams promises product from his party’s internal review by the end of the summer. My own modest observation is that democratic renewal is tough for any party charged with holding the reigns of power. It is doubly, even triply tougher to launch a coherent political project which successfully straddles two jurisdictions, not least of two such differing and diverse polities as the Republic and the UK.

However the party manages it, Adams needs not simply to bring on new voices (he’s widely credited with his party’s strategy for bringing women in to senior roles) but to encourage, for a time at least, a diversity of thinking and ambitions for the future within, to give the party the licence to think outside the box it’s currently in, precisely so that it can successfully find a back out of it. And then, perhaps, to move resolutely in a single chosen direction regain some of the momentum the party has lost since June 2007.

That’s a tall order for a party that’s come from the hard place Sinn Fein has come from, and where in many ways it still resides…

I’ve no easy answers. Except to say that this morning one of my work colleague mentioned (in a completely different context) a particular quote from a book by the English born conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Benjamin Zander and his wife (I think) Rosamund, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. In it they note that if your vision for the future is thwarted, then it is best to withdraw and ‘redraw your parameters’ (the readers’ reviews – pros and cons – are here)…

Given that no particular branch of nationalism is exactly flourishing at the moment, that might be fair advice for nationalist parties at large, and not simply Sinn Fein…