After months of will he, won’t he, Gerry Adams, Irish politics enduring enigma has announced that he plans to shortly stand aside as leader.
Cue the long lap of [dis]honour as his fans hail the great negotiator and peacemaker and his detractors remind them that he was even more responsible for the mayhem and pain that preceded the peace. Yes, he is entitled to top marks for his role in the peace process, but his total score has to be calculated over his whole career, not just the heavily revised latter portion.
Adams’ longevity is due to many factors, not least his enigmatic persona. What we know about Adams is what he wants us to know, whether it is his penchant for writing poetry, his fondness for his teddy bear and crème eggs or his passion for naked trampolining with his dog. The Adams that he would have us know is a mass of contradictions that allows some to project onto him all those talents and skills they would wish to have in a leader.
Amid all the analysis and commentary on Brexit, might I suggest you check out the Beerg Brexit Blog written by an old friend of mine, Tom Hayes.
Originally from Dublin, but now based in the North of France, Tom is one of the most experienced and skilled employer relations negotiators in Europe, something reflected in his Brexit Blog.
Whereas most look at the hard politics of Brexit, especially from the British side, and I tend to look at it solely through the prism of how it effects relations on this island, Tom looks at the process as a negotiator.
While you are never in any doubt, reading any of his blog posts, that Tom thinks that Brexit is a massive folly, each week he examines developments and tests them for how the progress, or hamper, a negotiated outcome that would serve the interests of both sides.
This is my most recent Broadsheet.ie column – it appeared on Monday September 4th – you can view the original online here
Much to his own delight Gerry Adams was once again grabbing the headlines last week. Ignore the fact that they were not the headlines that other political leaders would relish – for Adams, a headline is a headline, even if it contains more than a whiff of cordite.
It came on foot of the furore following Adams telling his local LMFM local radio station that jailing the provo murderers of the innocent Co Louth farmer, Tom Oliver, would be “totally and absolutely counterproductive”.
It was an outrageous statement to make, only made worse by Adams added assertion that the 1991 crime was “politically motivated killing”. It was not.
Yesterday was a busy media day for Sinn Féin’s Deputy Leader, Mary Lou MacDonald. Within the space of an hour she had appeared on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics and BBC 1’s Sunday Politics.
Mary Lou was doing what she does better than anyone else in Sinn Féin: taking no prisoners, firmly holding the party line and all without seeming unduly hostile or aggressive.
During the course of her one-on-one interview with BBC Northern Ireland’s Mark Carruthers; Mary Lou described Sinn Féin as being a party “in transition”. Given the context this was a reference to either: the potential for generational change in the Sinn Féin leadership or, to Sinn Féin’s ambition to be more seen as a potential party of government.
Perhaps it was a reference to both – either way, I am sure Mary Lou meant the phrase to convey the sense of a political party undergoing change and development.
I happen to agree that Sinn Féin is “in transition”, except that the transition I believe it is undergoing is into becoming a normal political party. It is a transition that it has been undergoing for some time, with varying degrees of success, but it is still an ongoing process.
Sinn Féin is not so much a “party in transition” as it is “transitioning into a party”.
The party leadership is an obvious example. It is not the only example. Normal political parties do not have T.D.s collecting convicted Garda killers from prison upon their release, nor do they hail convicted tax evaders as “good republicans”, but for the purposes of this piece, let’s just focus on the autocratic nature of Sinn Fein’s leadership.
Though he is over thirty-three years in the role, we are expected to believe that no one over that time in Sinn Féin has ever been unhappy with Gerry Adams’ leadership or ever willing to challenge openly it.
For most of those 33 years obedience to the leadership of Adams and McGuinness has been a core principle – one that seemed to trump everything else. But as the fictitious Chief Whip, Francis Urquhart, observes in the opening sequence of House of Cards: “Nothing lasts forever. Even the longest, the most glittering reign must come to an end someday.”
The blind obedience has started to slip over recent years. From the resignations of various Councillors North and South in the years after the 2007 election to more recent murmurings, including the resignations of 18 SF members in North Antrim in protest at the manner in which a replacement MLA was appointed and the Chair of Sinn Fein’s Virginia-Mullagh Cumann writing to the Irish News to say it was time for Adams to step down.
Even the most disciplined and united of political parties have various groups or factions not entirely happy with the leader. Our post popular and electorally successful party leaders like Jack Lynch, Garret Fitzgerald or Bertie Ahern have had their internal party critics, even at times when their leadership seemed at its most secure and assured.
They either feel the leader is too progressive or too conservative, too weak or too strong, or they believe that their personal talents and skills may be better recognised if there was a new leader in place.
These stresses and pressures are customary in a normal political party. They are the forces that keep a political party democratic. They are also forces that grow over time, particularly after a leader has been in place for a decade or more. They
Now, after over three decades of Gerry Adams’ leadership, it seems that Sinn Féin has a plan to do what other political parties do routinely and relatively seamlessly: change leader.
Except in Sinn Féin’s case it is a “secret” plan. Even the current Sinn Féin Deputy Leader concedes that she does not know what precisely is in this plan.
In most political parties the process for electing a new leader is transparent. People can see how potential leadership candidates are nominated and who has a vote in electing the new leader.
In some cases, this is done by an electoral college such as in Fine Gael where members of the parliamentary party have 65% of the votes; party members 25% and county councillors 10% or, as in the case of the Labour Party, it is done via a one member one vote system with all valid party members having a vote – though as we saw in the recent contest only the parliamentary party can nominate the candidates.
How will it happen in Sinn Féin? The stock answer from Adams and others is that the Sinn Féin Árd Fheis will decide, but how will that play out? Will it really decide? Will there be a real contest with rival candidates travelling to constituencies to meet those voting in the leadership election and set out their competing visions.
Or, will a new leader ‘emerge’, as the British Tory party leaders once did, following the intervention of a group of shadowy figures in Belfast with that decision gaining the semblance of democratic authority with a set-piece ratification at an Árd Fheis.
While I won’t hold my breath waiting for that change of leadership to actually happen, I am also a political realist and recognise that asking any leader to be specific as to when they plan to stand aside is to ask them to surrender their leadership at that moment.
How Sinn Féin conducts the change of leadership, whenever it happens, will be a major test of its transition. It will determine if the transition is merely an illusion or it is a sincere and genuine attempt to become a real political party.
Though I am clearly no fan of Sinn Féin, I believe that it is more the latter than the former, particularly as the organisation takes on new members and is compelled to allow more internal debate. Time will tell if I am right to be so optimistic.
In his interview on CBS’s long running 60 Minutes news show, Gerry Adams describes the murder of Jean McConville as just “what happens in war” going on to say: “That’s not to minimise it. That’s what American soldiers do, British soldiers do, Irish Republican soldiers do. That’s what happens in every single conflict.”
Not only is this a glib response, albeit masked by the inclusion of the phrase “that’s not to minimise it”, it is a starkly inaccurate one on several levels.
Let us take his claim that it is simply “what happens in war”. This serves to give the impression that the killing of Jean McConville is on a par with the very many regrettable but unintended killing of civilians. Without doubt there have been very many innocent civilian victims in wars. Take the bombing of Hiroshima, the bombing of Dresden or the London blitz. In each of these the attackers killed countless thousands of mothers and children, but the killing of Jean McConville was different.
It was not an unintended evil perpetrated by ‘the other side’, it was the very intended and deliberate act of a self proclaimed army against one of the most vulnerable members of its own community. A community of which, let us not forget, that this supposed army declared itself the sole protector and defender. Jean McConville was killed by the very people who claimed to be her protector. Her ten children were orphaned by the people who claimed them as their mandate.
You can imagine the justifiable outcry in the West if it were to emerge that the Israeli Defence Forces had summarily executed a young Israeli mother for offering succour or protection to a young Palestinian? Gerry Adams and the provisional Sinn Féin organisation would be to the forefront in that outcry, yet what is the difference?
The other falsehood is the hidden notion that this all happened in a terrible time of war and was perpetrated by soldiers in a constituted army. This is yet another element in the ongoing manufacture of the provisional mythology. Once again they fabricate the illusion of legitimacy or popular mandate for their imposition of a state of effective martial law on their own people.
There was no such mandate or endorsement. The Provos were not belligerents in a war, they were the propagators of a campaign a terror and violence, a campaign that was as often targeted against its own people as it was against its supposed ‘enemy’.
A campaign that for far too long allowed the UK government to treat Northern Ireland as just a security problem, not a political problem. The campaign had no achievement except to make Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams forces which needed to be acknowledged and dealt with. As we saw in the slow negotiation, and even slower implementation, of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements when it comes to putting the interest of Sinn Féin or the people first, the Shinners first, the Shinners win every time.
I have now updated my initial thoughts, musings, observations and mild rantings on the implications of the local election results, particularly Fianna Fáil’s stronger than expected showing.
This was first posted on Sunday morning – updated on Monday morning to reflect the revised party national totals in the Local Elections.
“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” – George Bernard Shaw.
Quite a lot, it seems.
Yesterday we saw history repeating itself, with the electorate visiting upon Fine Gael and Labour almost exactly the same devastating blow it had served up to Fianna Fáil and Labour five years earlier.
In 2009 Fianna Fáil lost around 39% of its support (when compared with 2007) while the Greens endured a massive reduction in its vote of 76%.
Yesterday, based on the Local Election results to hand, Fine Gael lost 34% of its support and Labour lost 63%.
While the story of the Local Elections is the rise in support for Sinn Féin and the Independents and the scale of the loss for Labour, the Fine Gael haemorrhaging of support should not be ignored.
Indeed, the case can be made that the real story of the election is this massive Fine Gael loss – a loss that should not be glossed over by what might appear to be its reasonable performance in the European Elections.
Losing 100 plus Councillors, on a day when you have increased the number of available council seats, is a political meltdown of Fianna Fáil in 2009 proportions. It will send a shiver around the Fine Gael backbenches that will match that currently coursing along the spines of their Labour colleagues.
Leo Varadkar’s line that the next election will be a battle between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin was a clever attempt to calm the troops with the notion that their lost support will come back when the Irish voters realise that Fine Gael is all that stands between them and the Shinners.
It’s clever line, but a flawed one.
For it to offer any comfort it would need to be underpinned by Fine Gael still remaining the largest party – but it hasn’t. By the time the dust settles it will become clear that the other big story of the locals is the return to frontline politics of Fianna Fáil, even if its European results are a bit rocky.
If the battle of the next election is, as Varadkar suggests, to be fought on the question of where you stand with regard to Sinn Féin then Fianna Fáil, with a few more weapons in its armoury, is standing on better – and now even firmer – ground than the depleted followers of Enda.
While Fine Gael may see itself as the antithesis of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil can challenge SF’s voodoo economics every bit as credibly as FG, but with the added bonus that that can better undermine and dismantle the Shinner’s fallacious claim to Republicanism, especially in its back yard.
The other story of the Fianna Fáil result is its incredible variety. Its national level of support at just over 25% belies some very good and incredibly bad local results, especially in urban centres.
They range from the sublime such as its 49% in Bailieborough-Coothall 39% in Castlecomer and 38.4% in Ballymote-Tobercurry to the ridiculous: such as its 4.9% in Dublin North Inner City, 6.8% in Tallaght South and 8.7% in Lucan.
While there are several other disappointing low teen results in urban centres across the country e.g 9.6% in Waterford City South, 10.5% in Bray and 13% in Limerick City North, it is no coincidence that the single digit performances are in Dublin.
That is not to say that the Capital is a wasteland for Fianna Fail. Contrast the single performance mentioned above with the parties stunning 27.3% in Castleknock, its 24.2% in Clontarf and its 22.3% in Stillorgan.
While the overall Dublin result of 16% points to a major problem for the party, the variety in results, highlighted above, shows Fianna Fáil’s further potential for growth and renewal in large swathes of Dublin.
It is the very patchiness of its result that points up where the party needs to work harder and better. Far too many candidates in Dublin were left to struggle on by themselves with no structured national campaign to underpin their efforts.
Having “Fianna Fáil” on your poster does not guarantee a good new candidate a certain base level of support in Dublin and other urban centres in the same way as having “Sinn Féin” on your poster did for their new first time candidates. Indeed it does not offer the prospect of that base level of support as it does in non-urban Ireland.
The candidates in Dublin raised the Fianna Fáil vote to their level, not the other way around. The vote in Dublin and other urban centres, is not the party vote plus the candidate’s unique personal support – it is just the latter. In certain parts of the city is it the unique personal support minus the residual antagonism to Fianna Fáil.
The “Fianna Fáil” identity is Dublin is not a coherent identity based on a core defining message from the party as a national political party: it is the collective identities of its various candidates.
This is not to underestimate the particular nature of Dublin voters, especially their looser party allegiances; it is just to point out that Dublin voters are just as likely to be receptive to a national message, just less continuously loyal to it.
Despite some clearly very good results in Dublin, most Fianna Fáil supporters still struggle to answer the questions: why should I vote Fianna Fáil and what does Fianna Fáil stand for. Most of the successful candidates I have encountered in Dublin answer it with the words: here is what I stand for…
It is not that there are not answers to these questions, but rather that the party has not sufficiently defined and substantiated them.
It is work that can and must be done. That work is not aided or encouraged by intemperate outbursts or Quixotic threatened heaves. The issues are policy and organisation – not personality.
The 24.3% of voters who abandoned Fine Gael and Labour saw their political alternatives this week. Some said independents, some said Sinn Féin – though not by a large margin as the swing to Sinn Féin since the 2011 election is in the 5.3%, but even more said Fianna Fáil with a swing of just over 8%, but the point should not be lost that the biggest single section of them said: none of the above.
The ones who stayed at home are the ones who were badly let down by Fianna Fáil and are now just as angry with Fine Gael and Labour for promising them a new politics and then delivering the old failed politics as usual.
Perhaps they concluded that they could afford to sit out these second order elections, as they do not see how the results will change their lives, they will not be as sanguine at the next election.
Apologies for delay in posting this column which appeared in the Herald just before Christmas (on December 18th)
THE people of Belfast were forced to endure a trip back in time to the bad old days last Friday – courtesy of yet another dissident republican group.
In placing a bomb in one of the city’s busiest areas, this latest dissident collective showed a terrifying disregard for lives of the people in whose name they claim to fight.
Ironically, they attempted their vicious deed just two days before the 20th anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration, the landmark joint statement from the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds and British Prime Minister John Major that set the course for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Monday night’s Primetime interview with Gerry Adams was a reminder that RTE is well capable of doing thorough, professional and researched public service broadcasting.
It did much to dispel the doubts cast about the station’s reputation by both the Frontline presidential debate and “Mission to Prey” debacles.
It also showed that Sinn Féin is not as clever, strategic and skilled in the political dark art of spin as many in other political parties and the media presume.
Watching the programme last night, and again today on Youtube, raises the obvious question: why did Gerry Adams agree to do this 24 minute interview in which he essentially spent his time talking about murder?
In part the interview was the consequence of the remarks he made in the Dáil on January 29th last during the expressions of sympathy on the killing of Garda Adrian Donohue.
He used that occasion to offer his condolences and solidarity with the family of Garda Donohue, but also to broaden that expression of sympathy to include others murdered in the line of duty; saying: “I apologise to Mrs. McCabe and the McCabe family, Garda Ben O’Sullivan and the families of other members of the State forces who were killed by republicans in the course of the conflict.”
But, having offered that apology in the Dáil, why did he seem so incapable last night to expand on that and adequately apologise, sympathise and console those who had lost relatives to so called republican paramilitaries over the years?
Why go on to the programme and give such an interview, when you know you are either unable or unprepared to answer the questions and offer the information that is going to be asked of you?
Could it be that the reason for his appearance was less to do with expanding upon his comments of January 29th and more to do with trying to pre-empt what he fears may be revealed when the Boston Tapes are released?
Could it also be an attempt to deflect attention away from the recent Belfast court case involving Adam’s brother Liam?
Deflecting attention away from one difficult story by opening up about another one is not a tactic unfamiliar to Mr Adams and Sinn Féin. Recall how Gerry Adams revealed how his own was father was both a paedophile and a thug while he was being criticised for his handling of the allegations of abuse made to him by his niece Aine Tyrell about her father, Liam Adams.
The revelation about his father came around the time that he acknowledged that he not dealt well with the allegations and that his actions when he discovered that Liam Adams was working with children were wrong – he had approached his brother rather than his employers.
While Adams’ performance last night will do little to diminish his standing with the bulk of Sinn Féin activists, it may cause some of the newer and younger intake people who considered Sinn Féin as an idealistic alternative to mainstream politics to think again.
Adams’ supporters will justify their continuing support with claims that this is all a smear against their leader – echoes of what we have heard in recent days from UKIP, but the defence used by some that this is all a very long time ago does not hold water.
Another defence offered online by defenders of Adams is that this is all RTÉ bias against their party. Why, they asked, wasn’t RTE asking Labour party leaders if they were in Official IRA?
Frankly, I have no problem with RTÉ asking them that, at least it suggests that some in Sinn Féin may unconsciously realise that Miriam O’Callaghan’s questioning of their leader last night was both fair and legitimate