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Gerry’s last hurrah? May 18, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Ireland, Irish Election 2007, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin.
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Yesterday I had a chat with a good friend of mine who is a Sinn Féin activist in Dublin and the conversation naturally turned to the election, and in particular the debate the night before where Adams had got what by any definition was a bit of a thrashing on Prime Time.

“When,” my old friend wondered aloud, “will Adams and all the other Northeners realise that no-one down here, including our voters, gives a shit about the Peace Process?”

The thought occured again as I just watched Sinn Féin’s party political election broadcast. As these things go it’s not that bad. No-one seems to put much imagination into election broadcasts with the exception of this year’s offering from the Green Party, which struck me as a little twee to be honest, but earned marks for being different, interesting, imaginative and making me actually want to see it to the end.

Sinn Féin’s begins, after a brief address from Adams, with pictures of Stormont, then Ian Paisley, then the Sinn Féin Assembly team, then in an act of lunacy close up shots of Sinn Féin Ministers like Conor Murphy. I will pay a week’s salary if one out of a hundred voters in the South will know who he is. I suspect most Sinn Féin voters wouldn’t have a clue who he is. By the time the ad moves South, the casual watcher will have gone, uninterested or bored in more of Sinn Féin’s obsession with the North.

Adams, by the way, also persist in his blank insistence the money is there to do everything in the Sinn Féin manifesto. Frighteningly, I think he is beginning to believe it. It wasn’t there six months ago when the party was proposing tax increases, and with an economic downturn, it’s not there now Gerry.

But we saw the Northern obsession again with the Adams debate. So uncomfortable is he on Southern issues and Southern economics, that he tries to bring everything back to the peace process, even at one point having a go at Trevor Sargent when he accidentally misinterpreted a comment about ‘getting back to this country’ from the Green leader, who was referring to Colombia, not the North. Sometimes people discuss issues that are not peace process related in elections to the Dáil. This may confuse Northeners, but it’s true.

The baffling thing is that the Shinners have people who can do this. Ó Caoláin might be long-winded….is long winded, but he is also articulate and has the instinctive grasp of Southern politics that comes with being a native. Mary Lou can be good, and can be a bit too given to reciting platitudes until the producer forces a camera switch, but she also understands the issues. To a lesser extent, Morgan and Ó Snodaigh out of their Dáil team can manage not to cover themselves in shame.

Yet bizarrely, a man who clearly knows very little about politics here is sent out to debate two of the most experienced and articulate political leaders in modern Ireland. He strove manfully to get everything back to the peace process, but it didn’t work.

Two caveats to this however. Firstly, I think people down here do ‘give a shit’ about the Peace Process. Not the technicalities of it, but they want peace, they want a functioning Executive and they are delighted to see Paisley and McGuinness sitting down together. I don’t think it would make your average voter put a stroke next to Sinn Féin, but it might mean he or she would consider it where before they would not. I think my friend underestimates the importance of the Peace Process to opening up space for Sinn Féin to move into in the South. I think Adams & Co woefully overestimate how important it is.

Secondly, Adams is popular. He and Bertie seem to always be the two party leaders with the highest satisfaction ratings, not necessarily a measurement of popularity, but still reports from the canvass trail, especially the Roisín Ingle article in the Times referring to people weeping when they met him, suggest he has a level of charisma that only Bertie maybe can match. In this context, does it matter if he performs poorly if he is ‘a statesman’? Is the image of Adams on television more important that whatever the voter will remember in a week’s time walking into the polling station?

Some final thoughts. Gerry Adams has been leader of Sinn Féin for 24 years now. (I didn’t actually know this but my friend pointed it out). By the next general election, he will have been leader for almost three decades, and next year he will be 60.

Does anyone think that come the next general election we’ll have someone new, possibly someone Southern (Though it might be a leader too soon) representing Sinn Féin in these kinds of debates? And if a new, Northern leader is installed, will he have the star quality with Southern voters that, love him or loathe him, Adams most certainly has?

And what effect would this have on the tensions within Sinn Féin laid out in this week’s Phoenix magazine over the party’s shift to the right? I argued previously that Sinn Féin in the south is much more committed to it’s left wing politics than the Northeners and people like Mary Lou. With Adams gone, who is to ‘keep control’?

Comments»

1. Mark P - May 18, 2007

Wheeling Adams out was the sensible strategy for Sinn Fein. He is popular, he has gravitas and, importantly, he is very, very good at using bland, vague statements to get away from awkward questions. Yes he performed poorly by his standards in the debate and yes, he was obviously weak on Southern detail and economic policies, where his attempts to wheel out peace process platitudes looked awkward. But really, what was the alternative for SF?

None of their Southern representatives have even a tenth of Adams’ personal charisma. Most of them are mumbly sorts and while a couple of them can string a few words together without embarrassing themselves they would have been completely torn to pieces by the likes of Rabbitte and McDowell. Adams has vast experience of dealing with hostile questioning, reservoirs of eau de statesman, and a fluency with language, all of which the Southerners lack.

The slickest of the Southern figures is McDonald, and she is also the emptiest. The rest tend towards the hairy and incoherent, even if there’s a bit more substance behind the mumbling.

One thing that is interesting though is that despite the much remarked upon chasm in quality between their Northern and Southern leaders, this only really seems to apply to the very top tier of the Northern leadership. Perhaps because of the big shadows cast by Adams et al, the second tier of Northern leaders doesn’t seem any better than the Southerners.

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2. franklittle - May 18, 2007

In a rush but a couple of quick points.

I have always been impressed by Ó Caoláin on media debates and interviews. He’s long-winded, he goes on too long and so on, but unlike Adams, he doesn’t need to duck the awkward questions, he can actually answer them. To me, he’s their most able media figure in the South.

Ferris and Crowe are fairly unimpressive in their Dáil team, but Morgan is good in a lightweight kind of way and Ó Snodaigh while poor on radio is actually pretty smart as his single-handed opposition to the recent Criminal Justice Act showed.

I think there’s a second generation of Shinners coming through like Pearse Doherty, Joanne Spain and Daithí Doolan who have the bland, empty media abilities of McDonald. I expect the Shinners to get better at saying less.

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3. Ben - May 18, 2007

I suppose it shows my partitionist mindset but I was actually surprised when they brought Adams out for the debates. “Isn’t he the Northern leader?” was my first reaction? Of course, he’s not, he’s just the party leader, and it would have been strange where he NOT brought out for the debate. nonetheless, I’ve got a feeling that thought crossed a few minds that night. I think we southerners tend to think of Ireland as 26 counties – mainly because to see it as 32 was enough to see you labelled a Shinner anyway, and up until very, very recently, that was something a lot of Southern people would not have had much truck with.
Still, times have changed, and the power-charing agreement makes a mockery of FG and Labour saying they will not do a deal with Sinn Féin.
but yeah, it’s funny that what might lose Sinn Féin votes is not their links to a paramilitary organisation responsible for some of the worst terrorist atrocities on these two islands, but their Book-keeping skills.

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4. WorldbyStorm - May 18, 2007

I guess by having a high profile personality the idea was to imprint the message of SF as a 32 county party.

What by the way did you make of the Phoenix’s thoughts re RedC polls? Superceded by events?

MarkP, Conor Murphy in Armagh comes across well…

Ben, could you email the CLR address, cedarlounge@yahoo.ie, I wanted to run something by you.

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5. Mark P - May 18, 2007

I broadly agree with some of franklittle’s assessments of the Southern SF figures. Ferris and Crowe are poor speakers. O’Snodaigh is no fool but again he’s a poor performer in the media. Morgan is more fluent, but is also lightweight. I wouldn’t agree with you on O’Caolain. I think he’s a dreadfully tedious speaker, longwinded as you note. The point isn’t that any of them are without some ability. It’s that none of them are debate performers of a standard which any other party in the Dail would dream of wheeling out for a big guns event like that.

You don’t have to like Rabbitte or McDowell, and let’s be clear I don’t, but by the low standards of Irish political oratory they are wolves in a flock of sheep. They, particularly McDowell, gave Adams a rough time. They would have mauled any of the Southern TD’s or McDonald. So from SF’s point of view it makes perfect sense to bring on Adams and get some free gravitas points. It wasn’t as if any of their other options were going to do better.

You are completely right about the new generation of SF representatives in the South. McDonald, as I’ve said before, represents the music of the future.

WbS – I’m not that familiar with Conor Murphy, but I’ll take your word for it. Isn’t he the new Minister responsible for bringing in the water tax?

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6. Election Debates... Election 2007 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - May 19, 2007

[…] work. Gerry Adams was oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, detached. Franklittle has already referred to this and Paul Little (they must be related) has an interesting post on Dublin Opinion on the same topic. […]

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7. franklittle - May 19, 2007

I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree on Ó Caoláin. I think he would have done a better job than Adams. Absolutely, long-winded and pompous, but Adams can be both too and the major difference, the key difference between the two is that the former knows what he’s talking about and the latter does not.

On Conor Murphy, he’s the Minister who’s put the Water Tax back to 2009 at the earliest and is proposing a review of it’s functioning. The Shinners may u-turn on this one and introduce water charges, but so far, since the Executive was set up, they’ve been doing what they promised on this.

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8. Ed Hayes - May 21, 2007

I wonder if SF really do want to be in coalition with FF? If so then I think their legendary long term strategic thinking might not all its cracked up to be. Say SF do win 12 seats, a best case scenario for them, and FG and Labour go into government, then SF have 5 years to eat into disillusion with Labour, which will come as inevitably as rain in Lietrim and no responsibilities to be anything except grassroots oppositionists, which they are good at. Next election see maybe 20 SF TDs returned. However if FF do drop all their objections to SF and offer them a coalition option, and high on the prospect of north/south governmental power they go for it, what happens? An FF dominated government and a couple of Shinners, in what ministeries and is one of them to be Mary Lou, who many in FF despise? Times get a bit tougher and hard decisions have to be made. There are cutbacks called for and money dries up for some favoured projects. The abortion issue blows up again and some of SF’s northern base gets very uneasy with the prospect of their minister’s leglislating for it in the south. The DUP and SF fall out in the north and people in the south blame SF. A few ex-RA men who went back to funding their Christmas list by a bit of expropriation get arrested and it turns out one of them used to be election agent for some TD. Some of the idealistic young comrades get pissed off and start reading Eirgri’s website. Any number of problems can arise, which frankly SF can do without. Opposition for a party like SF, in the south anyway, is a must at this stage. They would be mad to go into government.

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9. Ed Hayes - May 21, 2007

Also apologies for all the misspellings. English is actually my first language, I just don’t seem to be able to type it. BTW I wonder if SF’s John Cullinane gets elected in Waterford will he continue to be an advocate of the left path for the party? I see SF are expecting him to get a big chunk of John Halligan’s transfers. Will an SF seat be decided by ‘Stickie’ votes? The irony. Not that anyone under 35 will get it.

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10. franklittle - May 21, 2007

I agree with your analysis in comment ‘8’ 100% Ed. But I don’t think one can be underestimate the level of ignorance the Northern leadership has of Southern politics, and the exact points you make.

I think for the left, it is important that Sinn Féin candidates like DAVID Cullinane do get elected who can try and orient the party to a more left-wing position, or to be more exact reverse the damage done by Adams’ incoherent u-turn.

They would also be more willing to reach out to other left-wing formations and work with them.

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11. Redking - May 22, 2007

I for one do hope that the Sticks get in in Waterford, this is their target seat-one that they “expect” to do very well in. It would of course be irony of ironies if the Provos managed to borrow WP votes to get themselves in!
It’s interesting some of the comments about a “Left path” for the Provos as to what this actually means I’m unsure or is it just a case of more SF opportunism to garner votes i.e trying to (shamelessly) outdo the Sticks in a constituency where the Stickies are strong?

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12. dee - May 26, 2007

well,I know I am a few days late with a reply, however I think there are some fair points raised, and in the wake of the election results can see sinn féin did not perform as well as they would have hoped, and most of you will be happy that your favourit political candidate Mary Lou didn’t get in. There is one clear pattern in every comment, that as one person said you see Ireland as a 26 County Island, a sentence which as a ‘northerner’ makes me sick to my stomach, it is bad enough having to defend my Irish roots from the unionist but having fellow Irish men see the North as a seperate Country, well it sometimes makes you wonder, what is the point?

Going back to Sinn Féin you may comment that as a northern based party they have no idea what is going on in the Dail or issues surrounding the South, however is that not what they are trying to do? build a strong party in the 26 Counties give you representatives that you can deal with who will fight for your issues? In my northern igorance I don’t understand why you would not vote Sinn Féin, I mean they are a republician party something which FF claim, altho any one who understands the word ‘republic’ knows when in the last 800 years we wanted to achieve a republic it was not made up of 26 Counties, after all if we go back to FF history and look at Eamon D, one of the greatest leaders of all time, or was he? selling out to his American heritage instead of taking his Irish fate. did he do more harm than good for this country, im including Michael C also (who as we all know where members of the IRB/IRA) they split this Country and now we are still trying to tidy up the mess. Altho if we come to recent day and look at Bertie, well im not sure what exactly he has done for our Country, he certainly isn’t trying to build an all ireland, he is to Tony what Tony is to Bush, also with a depression about to hit, im glad he remains in office so he can deal with the mess he has made instead of others having to clean up after him.

At the end of the day it wasn’t so long a go that we all stood as one, we fought the Brittish togeather, the potato famine, and we tried to build our own economy, to make life on this island liveable for everyone reguardless of race religion or gender. But now times have changed its everyman or woman for them selves we are no longer united under the green white and orange but divided as the Brittish intended.

Oh and to your first question about not giving a s**t about the peace process, if you still had to live through it and lost people to it, if the situation was reversed you can be sure you would give a dam and when someone like Gerry Adams comes along and Martin McGuinness if all you had to do to get that peace was to give them a one or an x you would do it, and the sooner you do, do it the quicker we will have our all ireland and ther will be nothing the British/unionist can do about it, and finally PEACE,

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13. franklittle - May 31, 2007

I doubt you’ll read this again Dee but I think you’re kind of missing my point.

Firstly, I voted Sinn Féin as it happens, and would normally do so. I support a united Ireland and I believe Sinn Féin has the potential to deliver it. But I voted Sinn Féin despite Gerry Adams, despite the party dropping sensible economic proposals for watery garbage and despite a party leadership that could not find it’s way around this this state with a map. I also happened to have a very good Sinn Féin candidate in my constituency. A few miles either side of where I lived and I might not have voted SF.

My problem, as a socialist who lives in the South, is that men and women in Belfast with little or no understanding of Southern politics are determining Sinn Féin’s positions here over the objections of it’s own people in the South. It might be one country, but it’s two very, very different political contexts. What works on one side of the border might not work on the other.

Finally, it’s precisely because Southern people didn’t live through the conflict that they don’t care. You might think they should care. I might think they should care. But they do not. You either recognise that or you engage in political self-delusion. Regrettably, Gerry Adams went for the latter option.

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