The one thing worse than being talked about?

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?

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  • Seymour Major

    An excellent post John.

  • Crow

    It could viewed from a SF perspective that they have mopped up all the concessions they can from the British during the formative years of the peace process and through milking deommissioning and the cupboard is now well and trully bare. In NI they are in a mutual veto death-grip with the DUP and the only real opportunity for progress will be through the long game; gradually building representation in election upon election while the SDLP’s demise continues and demographics remain favorable. So the only real forum for progress is the South where if the wind blows the right way, SF could gain just enough electoral leverage to deliver a prize such as say speaking rights in the Dail for NI MPs or maybe even a Green Paper on reunification. The Republic’s electorate are a fickle bunch and electoral fortunes can vanish overnight but strategically perhaps this is not such as bad move for SF.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Mr Adams need never fear NOT being talked about.
    Standing down aged 62 as MP/MLA for West Belfast and standing for TD in Louth is certainly newsworthy. But four threads on Slugger O’Toole and two started with predictable spin is a bit over the top.
    No doubt this can be seen as Mr Adams cutting and running from West Belfast……where before the Westminster Elections some enthusiastic Sluggerites told us that the West Belfast electorate…..of whom they knew nothing were so enraged by the whole “impressive” Darkie Hughes revelations about Jean McConville AND the Liam Adams affair that they were ready to consign Mr Adams to electoral oblivion.
    But…er……they didnt.
    So let it be spun that he is cutting and running now ….to Louth…….but as Jean McConville was buried there and Liam Adams canvassed there, Mr Adams does not seem overly concerned about hostile voter reaction.
    But I suspect that Mr Adams amnesia about his own past is not something the electorate in West Belfast and Louth are worried about.
    As Ive said before Murder and Terrorism has been retrospectively endorsed in West Belfast. If Mr Adams as the text books tell us was OC B Coy 2nd Battalion, OC 2nd Battn, OC Belfast Brigade, OC Northern Command……he wont see it as leaving Norn Iron at all. Dont the same text books say Louth is in the Northern Command area?

    Timing is all. Will the Souths Election take place before the Assembly? Most likely around the same time. But the Donegal result will be an indicator.
    And yet its a clever move which creates movement within SF. Moves which might include the standing down of Claire McGill and Pat Doherty (65) in West Tyrone (will he try for Sligo Leitrim?) in Assembly.and Mitchel McLaughlin (65) in South Antrim and Francie Molloy in Mid Ulster.

    Its hard to really spin that out into a palace coup but it will be so done.
    And stepping up to the plate. Ah thats tricky.
    Especially as SF would never make announcements without the choreography in place. Alex Maskey has been mentioned in connexion with West Belfast. But he did himself no favours with the South Belfast electorate. May even have unravelled a little of the vote building that SF had done there.
    But with SFs knack of irony and history……Id say that Gerry Kelly is more likely. West Belfast native and his election to Westminster is the kinda thing the Daily Mail and “Disgusted in Tonbridge Wells” would hate more than Alex Maskey (of whom they have never heard). As an absentee Mr Kelly would still be MLA in North Belfast.
    Lagan Valley outgoing MLA will “cut and run” (enemy spin) or “follow his core vote” (SF spin) to West Belfast.
    This is unlikely a direct replacement for Adams as Id still expect one MLA to step down to promote a new face.
    And replacing Mr Kelly at the side of Martin McGuinness……Paul Maskey, Daithi McKay or Martina Anderson.
    Yet ADams going….might take SFs 5 seat vote management with him and open the door for a unionist.
    The problem SF has is that none of its Southern TDs is really that well known (yes I include O’Caolain and Ferris). The great benefit for SF is that Adams raises their profile. And walking into the Dáil Chamber is something he wants to do. At 62, he will never have a better opportunity.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Just to add the MLA for Lagan Valley being Paul Butler who “will cut and run” or “follow his core vote” (feel free to use your own spin) to West Belfast.

  • pippakin

    A good post.

    I wonder if, like Paisley, Gerry Adams is moving toward the elder statesman role. Pending the results of investigations and the trial I wish him luck. He has taken more than one courageous stand in his pursuit of a UI. I hope he does call for NI MPs to sit in the Dail. It like Westminster is the inevitable way forward. I hope too that those who rush to judgement will have spotted Ian Paisley visiting the Dail, whilst not the same it was nevertheless a remarkable move in the right direction.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I might just add that Matthew McDermott (who is one of the pretty impressive young SDLP folks) or possibly Tim Attwood will be SDLP candidate rather than Alex.
    This is the kinda seat where AP might want to run one of their impressive youngsters (McGrellis, Muir, Bower, Heading) as experience building exercise before they get a more winnable seat.
    On the other hand………a certain Ms Bradshaw has only to take her much talked about “skills portfolio” a very short distance from the Village. Could she be eyeing a possible sixth seat as a three way marginal SF/DUP/AP?

  • Slippery Gerry’s move could also be seen as a captain taking to the lifeboat before the ship hits an iceberg, for since coming into a position of power and political control have the only winners been those who promised the electorate the stars to get elected into cosy talking shop jobs with all expenses paid, and cheap subsidised food apparently available too, on top of their generous salaries and probably protected gold plated pension plans, and now they are tasked with telling everyone else that there is no money for anything and they will have to do without, and with less until such times as someone else, other than they who have stood for election promising to server the people their needs, magically appears to save the day/is parachuted in to grow the private sector.

    And that must piss off Marty something shocking too, for he is left holding the screaming bairn.

    No wonder there is no budget whenever they are terrified of the reaction to their failed leadership promises. Oh, and is Ian Jr not well/in rehab, for he has been out of the Harry Limelight for quite a while now, and that is not what we have come to expect of him, is it ……. a retiring wall flower of a fellow

  • Dr Concitor

    Good post Mr O’Neill. I know SF have little prospect of being in power after the next Irish election so they don’t have to be that specific about policy but, what realistic alternative can they offer to ‘the cuts’? To stay within the world economic system Ireland will have to follow the direction of whoever lends the money, whether it be the IMF or Europe. Neither of these organisations will lend money with out some degree of financial control. So what would SF propose. All I can see at the minute is some sort of socialist republican mysticism.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    “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.

    What most SF members probably realise is that without the boul Gerry their relative success in the South, in the face of having to justify an insurgency, would probably have been much more problematic. Equally they probably also realise that SF woud not be sitting anywhere near the top table in Stormo without him.

    If he failed to win the Louth seat then I’m sure he would jump but it is unlikely, even if there is stagnation (4 or 5 seats) that he would be pushed.

    Unionist (and disser) ‘fascination’ with Grizzly, as we often observe here on Slugger (is as the title of this article suggests) a reflection of his succes in marshalling Republicanism into a coherent political force and I suspect that post Southern election he wont have gone away you know .

  • Drumlins Rock

    I think Dr C is getting to what will be the big issue here, GA will become THE Sinn Fein campaign now when an election comes around in the south, up to now they were in a good position for a protest vote, but with a clear figure head for there opponents to focus in on Gerry is going to have to come up with real believable policy on the economy etc.

  • “significant structural change was required”

    John, you present a heavily sanitised view of the political wing of a paramilitary organisation. Thank goodness Adams’ war is over but the organisation’s organised crime and community restorative justice programmes continue. None of this is acceptable to the constitutional parties in the South yet there seems to be a reluctance to acknowledge that the poison remains. Civil servants that I’ve met from the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs take very different views about the toleration of such a poison.

  • alanmaskey

    Gerrry Adams has had the chance to cut a trail for himself in Westminster, in Stormont and in the Belfast City Council. He has not taken any of those chances, all given to him on a plate.
    Now he wants to cuckoo into a TDship in Louth and, he would hope, sneak into the last seat and then lead his party in Leinster Hose before, presumably, using the Leinster House forum as a spring board for a shot at the Presidency.
    Other, most notably Mary Robinson, have done as much with even less; though, admittedly, no one has ever accused Ms Robinson of some of the heroics Mr Adams MP stands accused of.
    Even, if we can forget, for a moment, this man’s wretched past, he has nothing tangible to offer the people of Louth. He has no track record to speak of. True, with Martin McGuinness, he did stand down his murder gang but if that was a great achievement, then the Monk or other criminal leaders should run for election. The Colombian bird watchers will know that West Belfast is not the only place such colourful characters spread their largesse.
    Ireland is in a mess. The forces Mr Adams represents are, like himself, part of the problem, and definitely not part of the solution.

  • alanmaskey

    Well, as the man said, he knows where the bodies are buried. Let’s hope he gets grilled on that too and that Dundalk and Drogheda are saturated with posters asking him if he knows where they are.

  • John Ó Néill

    Nevin – I’d already contextualisted Donegal SW in the realpolitik that always faces SF on the doorsteps here and didn’t want to be repetitive (maybe you’d not agree with that assessment either).
    Honestly – in the light of Willie O’Dea’s continued residency in the Oireachtas and the apparent inability to penetrate the legal failings of the banking system, I don’t think that the Department of Justice will be in a position to pontificate to anyone else for the near future. The sudden re-discovery of some sort of moral compass when faced with SF may even be turned against them as the administration of ‘justice’ (and those of the golden circles that it isn’t applied to) will be heavily scrutinised in political debate in the run up to a general election.

  • I can’t see Kelly taking west Belfast as they have been pushing him heavily to take North Belfast, and they think they have a chance of taking it next time. Not the right time to send in a new candidate. They could put up a donkey in west Belfast and still win. It would be an elegant way to withdraw Maskey from South Belfast where McDonnell seems to have decisively seen off his challenge.

  • propaganda

    Could be that Paul Butler will succeed Adams in the next Assembly while Paul Maskey will take the Westminister seat.

  • John, I also referred to the end of the military campaign but you’ve ignored the continuing organised crime and paramilitary community justice stuff.

    The Department of Foreign Affairs folks are worse in the sense that they endorse/embrace paramilitarism here. At least the Department of Justice stepped in to prevent the ‘leakage’ of some of these paramilitary activities to their own jurisdiction.

    PS You might well find elements of the Provisional Republican Movement within the ranks of the golden circle 😉

  • John Ó Néill

    Unfortunately, I still have Willie O’Dea’s voice going round in my head saying “I suppose I’m going a bit too far when I say this…” – so I’m taking briefings with a heavy pinch of salt, as I’m sure does the likes of Frank McBrearty Jr.

    As far as I can see the biggest continuing organised crime at the moment involves the coalition and the banks (and the opposition in their inept passivity).

  • Mark McGregor

    No idea who will get the guaranteed Westminster bauble but it seemed like an opportunity to shift Butler from LV to West Belfast at Stormont.

    So, I’m confused to why they would co-opt someone else instead of holding fire.

  • Neil

    They could put up a donkey in west Belfast and still win

    Precisely. It won’t matter what name’s on the ballot, most people vote for party over personality, and the same proportion of people will, I reckon, put their X by the SF box regardless of what name’s inside it.

    Gerry’s taking a risk, but with the current financial crisis in the South, the prior lambasting of SF as being economically illiterate by the very people who brought Ireland to it’s knees financially seems more of a backhanded compliment. If those people who destroyed the Irish economy think SF have no clue about economics then now is the time for SF to make hay. It’s like George Bush criticising Kofi Annan’s diplomatic skills.

    Their economic illiteracy or lack thereof can be no worse than that of the current crop who thought it was wise to build the economy by creating more houses than there are families to go in them. If ever inroads were to be made, now is the time.

  • John, are you not mistaking organised crime for impotence so far as the mainstream parties are concerned?

    I’ll refrain from commenting on Willie 🙂

  • Ranger1640

    I wonder what Squinter thinks of all this. He posted some time ago that Adams, was a busted flush in West Belfast, has he had talked much but delivered little. Indeed Adams delivered nothing for the disaffected youth of West Belfast, just ask the IAB.

    I pity the electorate in the south, as they are in for weeks and weeks of his usual and special brand of banal political rhetoric.
    He will treat them to his own special brand of superficial nonsense, he will reflect on the Diaspora, and talk much of what others can do for the Irish economy. However, trying to pin him down on a coherent policy on sorting out the Irish economy (which is the only show in town), will be like seeing Shergar running in the night racing at Punchestown.
    What I am interested in is how RTE deal with him. Unlike the BBC, I’m sure that RTE will enjoy getting their middle class politics into Adams. Unlike here were the leftist BBC was quite happy to never really challenge Adams on any issue.

  • Oracle

    Ahhhhhhh follow his core vote to west Belfast you mean the 5097 votes he got in 2007 plus the 2,000 that didn’t vote that’s 7097.

    well paul don’t bother Gerry lost them all at the last election plus another 4,000 of his own

  • John Ó Néill

    West Belfast boundaries will probably be re-drawn in Westminister reforms (if they go through), so the seat (as is) may not exist for more than a few years. Could well be an old face, then, to just hold the fort until the potential re-organisation is decided upon. Butler could resign LV and move while someone else could be selected to carry a challenge through to the next Assembly election (unless he is seen as having some chance, even if remote, of retaining LV).

  • Ranger1640

    An advantage of Adams going south he will be on our TV’s less. Every election has a silver lining.

  • PaddyReilly

    I suspect that Gerry is not cutting and running from West Belfast. Rather West Belfast has been slated to be abolished by the Conservative drive to reduced the number of MPs (thought to be from 18 to 15 in NI), so West Belfast will be divided between North Belfast, South Belfast, Lagan Valley and South Antrim.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Agreed……it does not matter whose name is on the ballot, the next MP for West Belfast will be SF. But those commenters who enjoy the comfort zone of any seeming reversal in SF fortunes will sieze on the inevitable drop in vote as “significant”
    But while it makes no difference who carries the SF banner in West Belfast, it does make a difference in more marginal Louth.
    Will Adams name add a few votes. Or lose some.?
    I suspect that people who have already voted for SF in that constituency wont be deterred.
    And I suspect that Mr Adams will be just as often on our TV news screens as ever……..