A tale of two leaders…

Peter Robinson and Gerry Adams have one thing in common. They are both intensely private men. The exposure of their family lives in the last few weeks has caused both huge personal and political embarrassment. Considered a safe pair of hands by their respective parties, each has faced a crisis of confidence on an unprecedented scale.Robinson endured a massive flash point after Christmas as the detail of his wife’s sex life momentarily titillated the world, and horrified his party. And for a time, he seemed politically isolated.

However, an impressive display of unity of the party, along with some clever footwork saw the former Ulster Unionist Arlene Foster take his place at the dispatch box, has relieved a lot of the immediate pressure.

The First Minister’s six weeks out of the media limelight is not enough to clear himself of any wrong-doing but he has headed off the likelihood of a disastrous snap Assembly election for his party before the UK General Election in May.

But has he become an electoral liability to the DUP?

Certainly the couple’s Westminster seats now look vulnerable to a strong challenge from the Ulster Unionists. And, more rural MPs, like Gregory Campbell, have their eyes fixed permanently on a challenge from the TUV.

The Adams crisis took longer to brew. The allegations regarding his brother mistreatment of his daughter were shocking but Christmas and Robinson’s public ordeal temporarily kicked the Liam Adams’ story into touch.

Now, we’re being treated to a further drip feed of bad news. Two more women have joined Adams’ niece to voice their disquiet about the way the movement handled their rape cases.

Peter Robinson’s future comes down to the electoral calculations of his party. His team appears confident there are no further traps out there. But, unlike Sinn Fein, there is a credible successor in Nigel Dodds.

Adams future is more complicated. The fourth most popular MP elected to Westminster in 2005, until now his position in West Belfast has been above question. The party leader since 1986, few have seriously contemplated an early successor.

The bookies favour Mary Lou McDonald. The former MEP is young, good looking and southern. And she has what the party needs more than anything else just now: a clean past. Yet with her recent loss of public office she will struggle to assert the kind of authoritarian control the party has become used to.

In all likelihood, Sinn Fein will stick with the devil they know, come what may. And not simply because it wants to, but because, for now, it has no alternative.

First published in the Daily Mirror…

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