Fresh start for Sinn Fein, or a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”?

And so tonight, Gerry goes. Or does he? Henry McDonald writing yesterday:

…sources within the mainstream Irish republican movement and veteran Adams-watchers believe the 69-year-old will still hold the centre of power in Sinn Féin from behind the scenes long after his official successor is elevated to the top post.

When he does finally go, the Sinn Féin politician most likely to take over from Adams will be the party’s deputy leader and Dublin TD, Mary Lou McDonald.

With Michelle O’Neill the leader in Northern Ireland, the party once umbilically linked to the Provisional IRA and its armed campaign will not only be led by two women but also by a generation with no direct involvement in the Provisionals’ 30-year “war”.

One veteran of the IRA’s West Belfast Brigade who was once close to Adams and his family doubts that the former MP for the constituency and TD for Louth in the Irish Republic is about to relinquish his full control of the party.

“Gerry made Sinn Féin in his own image,” the former IRA prisoner said.

“Whatever you think about him he was the master strategist. He built Sinn Féin up into an efficient electoral machine. He guided the party and the movement away from war to peace. It could never have been done without him and he knows that.

“He still thinks he can push them on to power in the south [Irish Republic] as his final achievement. So he will be staying around, in the back room, working the controls.”

One veteran Army Council member quipped earlier this week that Mary Lou would take over, but not be around as long as Gerry. Indeed, no one will ever be. Adams’s tight form of centralised control has been a unique if very long one-act drama.

And it’s not over. In September, when he announced he would be announcing something, it was clear that full transition of power will take ten years. In that time Mary Lou and Michelle will not control the politics of SF any more than Martin McGuinness did in his day.

They will likely play out Martin’s role as Cheif Negotiator, south and north, but the real power will, as ever, lie behind the scenes.

This is the key reason why Fianna Fáil Leader Micheal Martin (a much keener observer of Northern Irish politics than any of his southern rivals) makes it clear he’s not buying the retirement story. Whoever negotiates entry into southern government won’t be accountable for its delivery inside the party. And as we’ve seen in NI breaches are arbitrary and self serving.

As Micheal Martin pointed out to the putative Uachtarán Shinn Féin a few weeks back in the Dail her public role up to now has tended to be more symbolic than real:

When I was Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy McDonald, was nowhere. What tended to happen was that certain people came out for the photo calls. The Deputy was never at negotiations with me or Shaun Woodward.

He reiterated it again yesterday at the Plinth in Leinster House. And indeed the long flow of elected representatives complaining of internal bullying suggests central control within the southern party is getting stronger, not weaker.

The only surprise tonight would be if Mary Lou, after eight years serving as Gerry’s official tanist, is not to be the one to become party President. Will it be a fresh start? Or “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss“, as Roger Daltry once sang?

Just “don’t get fooled again.”

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

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