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 Most of their political heavyweights were withdrawn from Ministerial office after the 2011 Assembly elections, and with the one strong player given a holding job at Education where John O’Dowd has eschewed the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.

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