I listened to Gerry Adams and I thought about going on holiday. Or rather coming back. Let me explain.
I’ve been following these elections on television. The thought of going into the counting centre in Belfast flickered for a moment and then went out.As with football, you sometimes get more significant images watching politics on television than you do if you attend the political game. Besides, (i) I’m so bone lazy I make sloths look keen; and (ii) attending the actual event makes it difficult to read or send tweets about it, and these are often better than the event they’re commenting on. Anyway, where was I…Oh yes, Gerry and going on holidays. I find that when I come back from my holidays, I see this place in a different way. It’s as if I’m viewing it through the wrong end of a telescope – it seems to have shrunk, be more of a dot on the map than a world unto itself.
Something similar happened when Gerry Adams was being interviewed at the count centre by the BBC. Up until then it had all been about who would be elected in what ward here. Then Gerry began to talk about how well Sinn Féin was doing throughout Ireland. Even with the best of intentions, you can slip into thinking about this pegged-in little corner as the whole story, the whole world. Adams’s natural tendency to talk about his party’s performance nation-wide encouraged me to take my eye from the wrong end of the telescope.
And boy, viewed through the right end, didn’t the Shinners do well! I was listening to Enda Kenny on Sunday, where he was asked about the possibility of being in coalition with Sinn Féin after the next election. He didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no: he said that of course his party would look at all the possible combinations. Mmm. Sounded a bit different from his definitive no-coalition-with-satan-spawn-shinners line which he adopted before the last election. And then on Monday I heard Eamon O Cuiv being interviewed, and he was asked which party did he think Fianna Fail would sit more naturally in coalition with, Fine Gael or Sinn Féin? Oh, Sinn Féin, Sinn Féin, Eamon said, sounding as always as though he had a blanket over his head. We’re both republican parties, we have similar views on the need for urban renewal, – a whole range of things. Fianna Fail and Sinn Féin would be a natural sort of coalition.
So it looks as if Gerry was right again: he always said, prior to the last general election in the south, that if the numbers required it, other parties would soon get over their inhibitions about going into coalition with Sinn Féin. The question is, would Sinn Féin be willing to go into coalition with them?
Henry McDonald has been writing in The Guardian that Gerry’s ambition of being in power on both parts of the island by 2016 has moved a step closer with these elections. I’d suggest to him (Henry) there are at least three good reasons why that might not be Gerry’s ambition: (i) the Green Party; (ii) the Labour Party; and (iii) the Lib Dems. Were Sinn Féin to go into coalition as the junior partner, they might well suffer the same fate as the minority-party Greens, Labour and Lib Dems. That is, they could promise a rose garden to the electorate and then expect them to believe you when you say the bigger partner locked the gate and swallowed the key.
No, Henry. Gerry Adams would be well-advised to wait until Sinn Féin is the senior partner in any southern coalition: that might work. But to grab at a place in government, even if that involves coalition with a major partner who’ll firmly sit on you and then point to you as the sole source of all bad things, would be very foolish indeed. Mercifully, while the media can and have hurled every epithet conceivable at Gerry’s head, the one insult that has no chance of sticking is that he’s stupid. You don’t get to lead a party that’s got 260 councillors, 14 TDs, 3 Senators 4 MEPs, 5 MPs and 29 MLAs – yes, Virginia, the biggest party in Ireland – if you’re stupid.