Overdue transition will see Sinn Féin join the mainstream

Posted By: September 06, 2017

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, September 6, 2014
So in a matter of weeks, Gerry Adams will reveal how his party’s “planned process of generational change” will be managed.

The Sinn Féin president included the caveat that he only would do so if re-elected at November’s Sinn Féin Ard Fheis but even the less well-informed dogs in the street know the outcome of that particular contest.

We already knew a transition project was in place – it was flagged up at a corresponding party event in Co Meath last year and again when Martin McGuinness retired from front line politics in January.

There is a little more detail in terms of the sequencing of events but with the possible exception of those inside the Louth TD’s immediate circle, everybody else is merely speculating what may happen after Mr. Adams’s leadership is ratified for the 34th time.

However, unforeseen circumstances notwithstanding, we can safely assume the former West Belfast MP will not be leaving the political stage entirely and is likely to assume an ‘ambassadorial role’ of the kind once bestowed upon Joe Cahill, who was made honorary life vice-president of Sinn Féin.

Alternatively, Mr. Adams could retain the party presidency, while earmarked successor Mary Lou McDonald would be named the leader in the Dáil, assuming a similar status to Michelle O’Neill in the north.

The shift to a new generation of party public figureheads is well overdue. We are accustomed to seeing Sinn Féin as different from other political parties but even by its distinct standards, being led by someone who assumed office when many of his elected representatives weren’t even born does not immediately convey an image of a youthful,

modern party. Of course, Sinn Féin supporters would counter this by pointing to its recent electoral growth on both sides of the border.

But perhaps more crucially than Gerry Adams’s age is his past and the association in the public’s mind with the Republican violence.

Once again, it can be contended that this connection has not damaged Sinn Féin at the polls though this argument carries less weight when you step south over the border, where much of the party’s strategy is now focused.

As long as Gerry Adams remains as its leader, Sinn Féin will be blocked from joining a coalition government with Fianna Fáil, because in such a scenario its southern figurehead would automatically assume the role of tánaiste – or deputy prime minister.

With Mary Lou McDonald at the helm in the Republic, this public relations difficulty would be easier managed by Sinn Féin’s prospective partner in government. Such a move would finally signal Sinn Féin’s acceptance into mainstream politics in the south, ushering in a new political era for both the state and the party.

Then again, Mr. Adams may just announce that he plans to stay in post for another five years.