Joan V Gerry: Who is the true leader of the left?

Labour party leader, Joan Burton with go up against Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams on Claire Byrne Live tonight on RTE 1 at 10:35pm.

This will be a chance for both leaders to either cement their position or gain ground within the Irish left.

What does Adams need to do?

  1. Demonstrate that Sinn Fein has not just the critique but also the solution to austerity in Ireland. What new taxes is he proposing? Job creation programmes?
  2. Real change v more of the same-Adams new voters have in the last four years felt spurned by the political class, he needs to ensure that Sinn Fein’s message resonates with those who are disillusioned and create a belief that he is different from what has gone before.
  3. A new narrative-It has always been my view that people vote for a narrative, rather than a policy. If Sinn Fein can come out of this debate setting the agenda on the left wing spectrum of Irish politics then it has had a good night.
  4. In the past Adams has fallen down in debates on the detail of policies, if he can show that he can go toe to toe with a government minister on an issue like property tax and social welfare then he will begin to develop that new narrative about his leadership.
  5. Consolidate- Sinn Fein are averaging a solid 10-12% lead over Labour in the polls, locking in those disillusioned with Labour will solidify his base.

What does Burton need to do?

  1. It’s all up hill. Labour is facing a defeat of huge proportions at the next election, she needs to realise this going in to this debate and cannot let the fact that she is in g0vernment make her complacent. Debates may not be Adams strong suit, but you underestimate him at your peril.
  2. “Go to the mattresses” as they said in the Godfather. Burton is literally fighting for the position of her party in Irish politics, she needs to show passion, energy and commitment.
  3. Put the finger away- Labour politician have a terrible habit in debates of lecturing their opponents. This may appease core supporters, but to the rest of the public it comes across as arrogant. Burton needs to put that finger away before she hurts herself.
  4. Labour are not just a different shade of the establishment-Burton needs to show that Labour in government have made a real difference and are not just a different part of the establishment.
  5. Northern Ireland- Politicians in the South have this annoying habit of saying to Sinn Fein representatives “Sure you’re cutting in the North” and provide zero evidence to back up their claim. It doesn’t work, so if Burton is not up to speed on the budget in Stormont, don’t mention it.


David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs

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