At the time when much of the Irish media was baying for the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady, I remember making the point that people who hitherto had been indifferent to the welfare of the Catholic Church or even openly hostile to it appeared to have developed a sudden concern for its welfare in general and its leadership in particular. In recent days I’ve been thinking along the same lines about Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams.
It is no exaggeration to say that with the single exception of Jim Gibney in the VO, you’d search high and low, far and wide before you’d find an article in the Irish press that presented Adams in a favourable light. There were all sorts of reasons given why he should step aside: he was obviously lying about not being in the IRA, he covered up on sexual abuse by his brother Liam, he was guilty of the death of Jean McConville, he was an economic illiterate, he speaks bad Irish….You can probably produce a few more reasons yourself which the Irish media north and south have used why Gerry should step aside.
So let me for a moment have a think about this. Supposing I’m a Sinn Féin party member (no, Virginia, I’m not) and I’m scratching my head about reasons why Gerry Adams might be better to go. I’ve heard all the reasons why he should step down; now are there any reasons why he shouldn’t?
Well, there’s the Good Friday Agreement, for one. It is safe to say without fear of contradiction even by the mouth-frothing right that without Gerry Adams, the Good Friday Agreement wouldn’t have happened. Without Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin wouldn’t be the political force it is today. Which is?
Well in the north Sinn Féin are overwhelmingly the most popular nationalist party. They’ve achieved something that no other party managed to pull off: enduring power-sharing with the DUP. They’ve effectively dismantled much (although not all) of the trappings of the traditional Orange state. They’ve moved from republican violence to exclusively republican politics in the north. With massive success. If present demographics continue, it is only a matter of time before a Sinn Féin politician becomes the First Minister of Northern Ireland.
Now the south is undergoing a similar change. I can remember a time when Sinn Féin had the support of less than 2% of the southern electorate. At their last outing they almost trebled their number of Dail seats. Next time out, it’s expected that the party will probably double the number of seats it secures. It is neck-and-neck with the two other major parties, according to the most recent polls: Fine Gael 21%, Fianna Fail 20%, Sinn Féin 20%. Those are only opinion polls but there are few people who don’t believe Sinn Féin will make considerable progress in the coming elections next month.
During the time of this achievement north and south, the President of Sinn Féin was? That’s right – Gerry Adams. Under his leadership, Sinn Féin have transformed politics north and south. He personally, the latest polls tell us, is the most popular party leader in the south. That’s the same Gerry Adams whom so many column writers and editorials insist must stand down if Sinn Féin is to make progress, particularly in the south. Go figger.