Political news

Gerry Adams will be allowed to choose his time to go

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. Picture by Ann McManus
Analysis by Chris Donnelly

IT is not unusual to hear calls for Gerry Adams to step down as Sinn Fein leader from avowed opponents of the republican party or from disaffected and embittered former representatives or members.

Thomas Anthony McNulty’s call differs because he can not be dismissed as belonging to either of those camps.

Yet it would be a mistake to believe that Gerry Adams is under any real pressure to step down. Such is the stature of Adams within modern republicanism that he alone will decide when it is time to leave the stage.

For republicans of Adams’s generation, he has earned that right, having steered the republican movement away from a military campaign, through a peace process and to unprecedented electoral success for modern Sinn Fein in both jurisdictions on the island.

To forcibly remove Adams would be akin to a betrayal befitting political parties where the individual pursuit of power trumps a sense of loyalty, unthinkable for those who have remained steadfast through thick and thin.

But McNulty’s comments are reflective of sentiments increasingly being expressed - albeit privately - by both activists and supporters of the party.

In the south, many believe that the transition to a new leadership can be completed seamlessly due to the calibre of representatives in the Dáil who, it is believed, are better placed to advance the party ahead of any forthcoming election.

Whilst Adams has gravitas unparalleled by any other political leader in the south, he also carries baggage from his past and performs poorly during election campaigns when pressed on policy details, weaknesses that won’t go away and that are viewed as the most significant obstacles standing in the way of the party making greater advances.

Crucially, however, Sinn Féin is nowhere near as well positioned in the north to complete a smooth transition to a post-Adams leadership, for a range of reasons.

Northern Sinn Féin continues to rely on veteran faces, illustrating a worrying unwillingness to make the necessary changes to attract and promote into the real positions of power and influence within the party a new generation with the expertise and skills to enhance and sharpen its governing capacity.

To date, this has been overshadowed and, to some extent, compensated for by the patriarchal role fulfilled by Martin McGuinness that has seen him emerge as the great stabilizing influence of the devolution era.

But the passage of time since the peace process has brought with it a greater level of expectation within northern nationalism regarding the performance of their political class which has simply not been satisfied, and the falling nationalist turnout at elections can best be interpreted as a consequence of that failure which must be addressed.

Adams will depart at the hour of his choosing but his timing, and the actions he undertakes as party leader in the interim, will determine what state the party is in when that moment arrives.

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