Is there a viable single political life for Sinn Fein beyond Gerry Adams?

Another good piece of political analysis from Jennifer O’Leary on Spotlight last night. I’ve roughly clipped what I think are the most telling pieces of analysis, which will be available later. But you should try to watch the whole lot. There’s an disjunct between those who feel betrayed by Gerry Adams like Marie McKee, and his constituents in Louth who seem more than willing to set aside the inconvenient truths of his troubled and troubling past.

It’s also interesting that kids in a west Belfast school were so relaxed about pretty much saying that as far as they are concerned, Adams is already a part of the past rather than the present. That seems to underwrite Brian Feeney’s view that things have changed already. That Adams is no longer really a figure in northern politics, however much control he may retain internally within the party.

But as confirmed by Alex Maskey and Martina Devlin, Adams is not likely to be going anywhere soon. As our own Chris Donnelly noted, the party’s progress has plateaued in Northern Ireland, and there are concerns in the Northern Irish end that if the next party leader is based in the south they will begin to lose influence in parts of Northern Ireland.

As I’ve noted in a recent piece for the SBP, Sinn Fein is “one of those kingdoms Machiavelli described in which it is almost impossible to take power but, once acquired, almost impossible to lose it”.

Northern Ireland is not where the party’s energies are invested. Most of their political heavyweights were withdrawn from Ministerial office after the 2011 Assembly elections, and with the one strong player given a holding job at Education where John O’Dowd has eschewed the opportunity to innovate and simply takes his advice from senior civil servants.

As for the voters, SF has shown no interest in middle class voters. As Olivia O’Leary pointed out in one of her RTE Drivetime podcasts recently the Middle Class are Irish Labour’s particular burden and are notoriously difficult beast to keep happy. Anger amongst the poorer population should see SF’s vote grow next time, though rumours of Labour’s complete disappearance may be exaggerated.

Polls go can go up as well as down for government parties too in the more open political market of the Republic.

What’s impairing the progress of both opposition parties is the sense that some of the hideousness that the Republic has gone through may just be paying off. That and an increasing propensity for the electorate to invest in independent voices as their main protest against government.

In Northern Ireland there are some small signs of returning health within the SDLP. Sinn Fein has also experienced some minor reversals in such the passing of the SpAd Bill which slams the door on convicted prisoners (some  of whom are remain critical strategic decision making roles around Adams), and a payout reckoned to be anything up to half its declared income in NI to Declan Gormley for libelling the Co Derry businessman.

But Adams remains the party’s public and private loadstone. He hasn’t gone away you know. Nor is he likely to go anytime soon. There simply is no one person who can possibly fill an Adams shaped hole.

  • Well sooner or later he will go….and I suspect he may have already gone on entirely reasonable health and age grounds.
    As it is…any resignation will LOOK like his enemies have won and Adams enemies will happily believe it.
    But he has ridden out the allegations that he has been less than candid about his history. Thats no big deal.
    He has ridden out specific allegations…a much bigger deal…and really not enough people care. And those that do, dont care enough. We can ignore the feigned concern of SFs enemies.
    And I think he can ride out any finger pointing over Liam Adams.

    But I’m not convinced he can ride out everything. Paraphrasing Oscar Wilde…once is unfortunate, twice is careless….three times????
    But ultimately Health and Age will cause the resignation.
    And thats the unwritten clause in the Decade of Centenaries….that politicians from the 1960s, 1970s may not be around politically or literally when the decade ends.
    Had Margaret Thatcher died the week before a British General Election….and you take my point. And I’m not speaking of any individual.
    The next leader…can it really be Mary Lou….will find Adams a hard act to follow. Simply put his resignation would “free” voters to look for an alternative to Sinn Fein….Arguably, Hume, Mallon, Rogers, Farren, Hendron “freed” SDLP voters to do the same.
    The first tier of SF Leaders….Murphy, Gildernew, etc have been sidelined in Westminster. The second tier are a mixed bunch…some like Sue Ramsey and Jenny McCann are good but theres a poor third tier of newcomers.
    Yet the most stellar SF performer at the moment seems to be the Mayor of Belfast. I used to think that the Belfast journos didnt like him but he seems to be enjoying a rather charmed life at the moment….the Twitterati love him….and if SF strategists are looking for a new face with little connexion to the Past, he might be the “northern face”.
    Certainly the SDLP should be looking to point up some of the absurdities of his regal progress.

  • Morpheus

    Judging from Mary Lou’s speech this summer I would say that SF are going after the middle class nationalist/republican vote. She gives an excellent speech, as did Basil and between the 2 of them they show a new found and much needed maturity in the debate.

  • between the bridges

    Gerry lost his battle with Martin years ago and was put out to pasture, yesterdays man is cling on for 2016…

  • between the bridges


  • Charles_Gould

    I wouldn’t write him off yet.

    David Trimble assumed he would see off Paisley.

  • Gopher

    The question has become somewhat academic in Northern Ireland whilst registration is not turnout it would not matter who leads SF unless they can miraculously make the suburbs register and vote for them.

  • sean treacy

    Mick,what do you mean by “half its declared income”? Are you alleging that SF have income that they don’t declare and if so what do you base this allegation on?

  • Red Lion

    Morpheus I remember that speech by Mary Lou and thought she was trotting out the same old republican dogma and cliché playing to a core vote, not trying to branch out onto new ground or attract new voters.

    Check out her line ‘Smash Northern Ireland…I like that’…very progressive.

    Basil McCrea from NI21 on her other hand sounded so much more progressive and innovative.

  • “Gerry lost his battle with Martin years ago and was put out to pasture, yesterdays man is cling on for 2016…”


    I imagine that over the decades whenever Adams faced hard going he kept himself going with his vision of 2016. And like most of us he has had to scale down his goals and dreams as he has suffered setbacks. He has gone from telling Republicans in the 1990s that there would be a united Ireland in 2016 to imaging a situation in which SF would be in government in both parts of the island, to a situation in which he would be one of SF’s representatives in parliaments in both parts of the island.

    “Mick,what do you mean by “half its declared income”? Are you alleging that SF have income that they don’t declare and if so what do you base this allegation on?”

    It is now known that over the decades illicit income from the criminal operations of the Official IRA (protection schemes, padding on construction bids, bank robberies) provided funding for the Republican Clubs, Sinn Fein–The Workers’ Party, and the Workers’ Party. That was one of the main reasons for the creation of the Democratic Left in 1992. It is reasonable to assume that another republican paramilitary organization might have had a similar arrangement with its political wing.

  • Dixie Elliott

    sean tracey ” what do you base this allegation on..”

    Thats no one’s business sean… except those who had none but now do of course.

    For a start who would dare suggest that Gerry steps aside?

    And anyway should SF ever get into power they’ll make such a mess of it like up here that come the following election they’ll all go.

    And their likes will never be seen there again, as Flann O’Brien would say…

  • Lionel Hutz

    I thought that spotlight program was like nothing more than one of those American sitcom episodes where they flashback to previous episodes. An amusing omnibus but left me feeling slightly cheated as there was nothing new.

    FJH points to an interesting dynamic once the folk heroes of Sinn Feins first generation leave the stage. I don’t think that Sinn Fein will suffer the way the SDLP did for two reasons. Firstly, when the Sdlp grandees left the Sinn Fein grandees remained to pick up the votes. There is no equivalent now. Secondly, whilst Sinn Fein have exiled alot of their second tier, those that remain are much more publicly known than the second generation Sdlp were.

    But none the less, the dynamic will change when Sinn Fein start to look like a normal political party.

    In the south its more interesting. Sinn Fein are simply not a prosperity party. If they fail to establish themselves as the second party, the government in waiting, during these austere times, they never will. Fianna Fàil have proved too resilient. Sinn Fein have failed and it will be a long time before they have another chance. With or without Gerry

  • Morpheus

    Red Lion: “Check out her line ‘Smash Northern Ireland…I like that’…very progressive.”

    What’s the whole quote? What’s the point taking a snippet that suits and ignoring everything else?

    Personally I thought it was a complete and welcome change of direction from SF, the young and the middle classes will lap that up

  • Yes Mr Hutz is right. The comparison between the SDLP old guard ten years ago and SFs old guard today is much more nuanced than my original post stated.
    The point is that the Dublin media and aspects of our own have an obsession with Gerry Adams and he is increasingly irrelevant. When he does step down…he’s even older than me….the media will rush to proclaim it was “them wot dun it”.
    But the satisfaction of getting rid of him would be short-lived.
    Effectively Adams is no more than a decoy and a distraction….the media should simply ignore Adams and go after the NEXT Leadership now.
    Mary Lou and Pearse and Mayor New Belfast, who seems to have picked up a new chaplain since the weekend….the current total is NINE.
    In my view, thats at least as risible as anything the Twaddell Avenue Civil Rights camp is dreaming up….yet there is no satire.
    I do of course recognise genuine achievements like the Philippine Aid appeal …run by the mayor and Christopher Stalford.
    And indeed there is a mirror image in DUP where the old guard McCausalnd, Poots are ridiculed and others like Simon Hamilton and Gareth Robinson are not.
    Time really that the media and political opponents of Sinn Fein and DUP realised that they should go after the Parties rather than the decoys.
    Going after the Old Guard effectively gives the new people a clean slate.
    Opponents of Sinn Fein and DUP….the Green and Orange Wings of the One Party State ….should catch on that the respective Leaders/Leadership are already gone and start directing their energy to the next people.

  • Charles_Gould

    I would expect Gerry Adams could stay for up to another 10 years. He brazened out the Northern Bank robbery, and he brazened out the McCartney murder, so he will probably think he can brazen out these present difficulties with little or no electoral consequences.

    The next leader seems to be Mary Lou and she is probably going to focus on the Dail. Regading NI, there are people such as Michelle O’Neill or the Education Minister who can take over as dFM.

  • Morpheus

    When GA moves upstairs Mary Lou might well concentrate on The Dail but she, along with her colleagues, will also be focusing on the long-term strategy on an all-island basis and on that she front is definitely making all the right noises to attract the moderate voters.

  • Gopher

    The school in West Belfast was interesting though somewhat disconcerting in 2013. When I went to school you would have got 16 different and divergent views from a random group of students. If they ever remake Village of the Damned they need look no further for a cast.

    The Lord Mayor’s collection of Devine’s is interesting given the voter registration figures for Belfast. It seems a large section of Belfast’s population has lost interest or disappeared to be replaced by disinterested immigrants. A study of registration through Belfast wards is quite rewarding. Whilst one might applaud the sentiment of peace displayed by the Lord Mayor the strategy for votes is all to apparent.

  • Charles_Gould


    I think Mary Lou would be much better at explaining the ideas behind a United Ireland. It will be very nice to have these new people coming forward leading SF. Mary Lou in ROI and Michelle O’Neill in NI and then SF might start to be more like SNP in their approach.

  • Adams will die, like other would be dictators, sometimes helped along.Nothing much will change for SF until that happens. If they hope to enter Government then as a Senior or Junior coalition Party, they need to drop the Marxist claptrap pretence and remake themselves as a slightly left social democratic party. There are just too many conservatives outside Dublin and maybe a few other towns to succeed as extreme lefties (which they aren’t anyway).

  • derrydave

    Anybody out there think that a joint-leader could be the way to go once Gerry steps down ? Or would that smack too ‘partitionist’ for Sinn Fein to stomach ?

    It seems to me that there would be a benefit in having a Northern leader of the party and a southern leader – going one way or the other risks Sinn Fein losing it’s focus and momentum. You have to credit Gerry Adams in that he is widely recognised as a political leader who transcends the border and is very popular in both jurisdictions. It’s very hard to see of any other leader who could manage this.

  • son of sam

    Michelle O ‘Neill as D F M?Once again,you’ve got to be joking!

  • megatron

    The question is in some ways insulting and in other ways academic.

    At the moment there are an awful lot of people on the island (c 500,000) who broadly support the policy positions of SF.

    One way are another these people will want those policy positions pursued and it doesnt look to me that SDLP will pursue them in the north but maybe they will. A different challenge awaits in the south possibly through a new ULA type structure but Mister Joe’s move to the centre is ill advised.

    Move the electorate not the party should be the aim. Far more importantly they need to develop coherent policy positions to achieve their stated objectives of more equality.

  • Michelle O’Neill is over-promoted already.
    Realistically John O’Dowd and Gerry Kelly are the only heavyweight SF have got in the North.
    I cant see either becoming Leader.
    I can see Mary Lou as Leader…and wearing a partisan hat hope that she will….because she wont go well in the North.
    Pearse Doherty probably touches both bases better.

  • keano10

    Speaking from the Sinn Fein side of the house, I would describe the surprisingly widely-held assertion that Mary Lou will be the next leader as a little skewed, to be frank.

    Pearse Doherty is without doubt the strongest and most widely championed candidate within party ranks and it is not hard to see why. There may be a case for Mary Lou in a supporting capacity as she is highly talented and personable, but Doherty WILL be the next leader of Sinn Fein. The only matter arising is when. I suspect it may be a little further away than some are speculating. Adams can be expected to remain at the helm for some time yet.

  • Morpheus

    The Belfast Telegraph are reporting that Pearse Doherty has already ruled himself out of the leadership race Keano.

  • fordprefect

    Sean Treacy
    “what do you mean by “half its declared income”? Are you alleging that SF have income that they don’t declare and if so what do you base this allegation on?”

    Are you trying to be funny Sean? From what SF say, their members (or at least, their elected members are supposed to pay a “tithe” or somesuch into the party coffers). Where I live, I know lifelong republicans who haven’t got an arse in their trousers (as the old Belfast saying goes) and yet they look at the Gravytrainers who always have a right few quid on them and have holiday homes in Portugal etc. I know for a fact that SF members that have holiday homes in the likes of Portugal (everyone knows who I mean) and elsewhere around the world are charging people to rent them out in the Summer, and the off season makes them a nice little earner too. This is a party that are supposed to be against Landlords!? There are other members of SF that own property here in Ireland and charge extortionate rent to the poor bastards that “live” in them and if rent isn’t paid, out you go! If I’m not mistaken, it was in the SF constitution that Landlords were not supposed to be allowed to join or be part of the party. I had a bit of a spat on here a while back with a girl who was obviously a SF supporter/member. It was around what an “average industrial wage” (AIW) was. She “corrected” me at my suggestion that: So-Called MLA’s got far more money than the average person, say, working on a building site. She answered me very cogently, in fairness to her, (about the difference between an AIW and about what you and me could expect) . The one question I asked her (which she never came back to me about), was when I asked her, where does all the money come from to pay for the SF MLA’s, Councillors, and MP’s suits, shirts, ties and dresses etc.? Because every time I see them, they are wearing different ones!

  • sean treacy

    Ford prefect ,as you well know since 1998 up to as many as half a dozen SF MLAs have left the party on bad terms and many have reinvented themselves as super republicans like yourself. How come then that not one of them came forward to expose the AIW policy as being a falsehood?Surely if AIW does not exist it would be in their interest to expose this,

  • Charles_Gould

    John O’Dowd and Gerry Kelly: neither of them would have appeal in the Greater Dublin area where so many votes are in play.

  • Charles_Gould

    Michelle O’Neill has been very sure-footed in her political career to date. I think she is underestimated by some people on here.

  • GEF

    “I would expect Gerry Adams could stay for up to another 10 years”

    Agreed, after all GA is only 65 and Ian Paisley stayed leader of the DUP well into his 80s. The greater percentage of those who want the controversial President of SF to resign are either non SF nationalists, dissident republicans or Unionists

  • babyface finlayson

    I agree with btb above, 2016 must surely be the target.
    If he can hang on that long then logic and pressure from within the party must surely make it impossible for him to stay.
    It allows him to leave on a high and, he can say, at a time of his own choosing.