With a stagnating vote evident in the last NI Assembly election – just 8 months ago – and a reduced number of seats available this time out, in the Belfast Telegraph Anthony McIntyre highlights a potential problem for Sinn Féin in their election gamble.
There is nothing complicated about the DUP pitch: despite the democratic veneer, the appointment of a non-martial politician to lead Sinn Fein in the north, the caudillo and his camarilla are still pulling the strings. A clear declaration of intent by the DUP to fight a bruising election battle, it leaves Sinn Fein to ponder the strategic matter of whether Michelle O’Neill can galvanise the party vote and energise the voters.
If Gerry Adams being replaced by Paul Maskey as MP for West Belfast is indicative of future projections, the trend will not be upward. How popular the appointment will be within Sinn Fein remains a matter for conjecture.
O’Neill was part of the Assembly team that has been accused of “roll-over republicanism”. Martin McGuinness’s palpable physical frailty came to personify an Assembly team malaise which saw it swallow ignominy after insult and which, up until it collapsed the power-splitting Executive, responded to DUP slap-downs as if they were pats on the back.
The deference, rather than defiance, shown to the DUP so inflamed the “sectarian” ire of the party grassroots that it felt sufficiently emboldened to trump the careerist cartel which the DUP had strategically banked on refusing to upend the institutions.
The corollary: if Sinn Fein fails to increase its vote and share of Assembly seats under Michelle O’Neill’s leadership, coupled with the possibility of the DUP ceding no ground to the UUP, or TUV, it will lead to her position being vulnerable.
Unlike Martin McGuinness, she is far from unassailable.
While most political parties run elections to select personnel for top jobs, Sinn Féin takes a different approach.
One party insider said an extensive review of structures in recent years, driven by long-time leader Gerry Adams, meant it was now within the gift of the Sinn Féin president to make such appointments.
When The Irish News asked the party about the process involved in selecting Mr McGuinness’s successor, a spokesman said only: “The Sinn Féin president brought forward a recommendation that was ratified by the ard chomhairle on Saturday.”