We’ll be launching the full set of categories for the Slugger Awards later this morning, but Chris Donnelly makes something of a pitch for two extraordinary come backs over the last year.
Gerry Adams, who this time last year was plunged into a personal and political crisis over the allegation by his niece that he’d known of her accusations of abuse against his brother and had done nothing to help. This was followed in fairly short order by a Spotlight programme that revealed Peter Robinson’s wife Iris had not only had an extra marital affair, she’d also accessed loans totalling £50,000.
Both episodes were reportedly emotionally devastating for both men. Politically, it is almost certain that Robinson paid the price in the loss of his East Belfast seat to Alliance Party candidate, Naomi Long. In his West Belfast citadel, Adams was more secure.
Yet as Chris notes, both parties have prospered throughout the year, largely by sticking to their own narrative. And in Robinson’s consolidating a party that had looked at one point like it could atomise:
Robinson had always seemed to have a strained relationship with party faithfuls, more accustomed to responding with fervour to the stirring words and spellbinding oratory of populist Paisley than the calculating coolness of his sidekick strategist.
Yet he has emerged from his wounding year with a stronger bond to party grassroots, evident in the reception afforded to the leader at DUP’s conference last month.
It has also helped that the DUP’s opposition within unionism has self-destructed. Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice has disappeared following a disastrous election, while the Ulster Unionist Party appears clueless. Things aren’t going well when the party leader needs to preface his keynote conference speech with the declaration that he is not a political dinosaur.
Factor in the First Minister’s cunning attempt to (at least rhetorically) lay claim to middle-ground pet projects like integrated schooling and you begin to get the picture of a party getting comfortable with its newly-found leg-room.
In the case of Adams, whilst no one would pretend that he is the cause of Sinn Fein’s revived fortunes in the south, his long term strategy of investing in young talent paid off supremely when Pearse Doherty walked in to the Donegal South West seat, and delivering one of the most memorable maiden speeches the Dail has seen in many years.
Ironically, given the traumas of the early part of this year both men have delivered something of a new beginning for their parties. Far from running from the ditching of Double Jobbing the DUP have used it to build up the legitimacy and effectiveness of their representation at Westminster.
And on the latest poll figures, Sinn Fein look on track to have a record number of representatives in the 31st Dail. A propitious end to what has been a very difficult year for both men.