Brexit and a a looming election in the Republic provide opportunities for the party on both sides of the border. Will they seize them?by Pádraig Belton / November 24, 2017 / Leave a comment
Ireland, both sides of the border, now faces what for many years seemed unthinkable: a Sinn Féin after Gerry Adams.
The worldwide face of Irish republicanism made a surprise announcement this week explaioning that he will step down as president of Sinn Féin in 2018, and will not stand for re-election for his seat in Ireland’s lower house, the Dáil.
Adams, who turned 69 in October, has been leader of Sinn Féin since he was 35.
No preceding head of the party ever lasted as president for more than 13 years; but Adams has managed 34.
The prospect of Irish politics after Adams raises the question of whether Sinn Féin might start to distance itself finally from its Troubles-era baggage.
Combine this with the near-certainty he will be succeeded by the party’s adroit deputy leader, 48 year-old Mary Lou McDonald who represents Dublin Central, and the outlines of a Southern Strategy glimmer into view.
McDonald’s advantage “is very much that she is southern with no connection to the Troubles of the past,” says Dr Matthew Whiting, a politics lecturer at the University of Birmingham with a forthcoming book on Sinn Féin and the IRA.
For one thing, moving south and down a generation will mean a cultural shift within Sinn Féin.
There are other rising stars who will now feel due a turn, like Matt Carthy MEP (a midlands native) who leads on their all-Ireland strategy, and Eoin Ó Broin, an author who represents Dublin Mid-West in the Dáil.
But says historian Ruth Dudley Edwards, “the party is in trouble [in the south] because the people it’s been attracting aren’t schooled into unquestioning obedience and want to be consulted.”
“Hence the loss of ten per cent of their councillors in the last couple of years and loud complaints of bullying and harassment which are having a bad effect on recruitment.”
It is certainly true that without Adams holding the whole thing together, pressure for the party to be less top-down may prove hard to resist.
While all this plays out, Ireland may meanwhile face an election any time between Christmas and the end of next year.
The timing of Adams’s announcement, with this in mind, is not accidental.
Mick Fealty, founder of Slugger O’Toole—a widely-read…