Interesting to see the responses to Gerry Adams’ hypothetical candidacy in Louth during the next, as yet uncalled, General Election. While all politics may be local, and the Donegal SW by-election will ultimately be decided by various local issues, Gerry Adams’ announcement managed to catapult Sinn Féin onto the front pages in the penultimate weekend of the campaign. Whether long-planned choreography, beginning with Arthur Morgan’s resignation, was unpacked by Pearse Doherty’s successful High Court action, is not likely to be admitted in the short term.
In reality, Adams’ move may well mark the beginning of a new, and possibly final, phase of his political career. At 62, and with a significant shift behind him as party leader, trading a well-established mandate for a much riskier proposition may be a revealing summary of the current choices facing his leadership of Sinn Féin. The inability to expand the parliamentary base in the Republic of Ireland could not be sustained through another General Election, particularly in light of the uncertainty and potential that has been unleashed by the dysphraxic crisis management of the governing coalition. In the event that Sinn Féin did not make some visible inroads in the forthcoming general election, it feels unlikely that Gerry Adams would (or could) continue as party leader. In that respect, proposing to stand in Louth more or less identifies his political future with that of Sinn Féin in the Republic. Failure to win, or another minimal return of TDs may have seen renewed calls for a restructuring of Sinn Féin policy and tactics. As all long term leaderships know, the tendency to promote or retain those of shared values often pushes top table dissent to arms length. If Sinn Féin returned only 4 TDs to the next Dáil, it is hard to see how even those close to the leadership would not decide that significant structural change was required.
In some ways, shifting the leadership base away from Belfast and back towards the Republic would close a circle that began with a series of resignations and dismissals from the IRA and Sinn Féin back in the 1960s. How you would chose to interpret that would be down to where you fall on Mark’s graph. A strategic move to imply that, electorally, voters in the Republic would, in effect, exercise control over Sinn Féin in the North (by, in effect, endorsing or rejecting the leadership directly)? The ultimate dismissal of the current SDLP challenge? A tacit admission that there is no significant potential for growing the Sinn Féin vote in the North in the short term? [Really, you can make up your own story here].
Whatever the motivation, certainly Pearse Doherty’s chances won’t have been harmed by last weekend’s announcements. After all, if there is one thing worse than being talked about, it’s not being talked about, right?