The President of Sinn Fein, Louth TD Gerry Adams, told his party’s Ard Fheis in Dublin last week-end that he will step down next year from both the party leadership and as a member of Dail Eireann.
There has been much speculation as to who will succeed him with most people in Irish politics predicting it will be his Deputy, the high-profile Dublin TD Mary Lou Mc- Donald. Especially given that her nearest potential rival Pearse Doherty quickly ruled himself out of contention because he has a young family.
That would be in keeping with a switch in the party’s focus away from Northern Ireland and to the politics of the Republic where it has said it will demand to go into coalition with either of the two biggest parties, Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.
The party’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, is widely regarded to have been anointed as successor to the late Martin McGuinness and her utterances, even in an authoritarian, centralized party sometimes called Stalinist, have never deviated from the thoughts of President Adams.
Mr Adams has been the president of Sinn Féin for 34 years, outliving several generations of British, Irish and even US politicians. With Martin Ferris also announcing he will stand down the party leadership will be free from direct association with the Republican movement’s bloody, murderous past – a significant hurdle in elections in the Republic.
Ms McDonald, 48, is from Rathgar on Dublin’s Southside, one of the country’s more expensive post codes. She was educated at the exclusive, fee-paying Notre Dame Des Missions in Churchtown, went to Trinity College, Dublin, the University of Limerick and Dublin City University during which time she studied subjects ranging from English Literature, European Integration Studies and Human Resource Management. She speaks little Irish, despite her party’s ostentatious use of it at media events.
Like many of her ambitious contemporaries she was originally a member of Fianna Fail but left it in 1998 to join Sinn Fein. She quickly rose to Sinn Fein’s Ard Comhairle in 2001. She has been Sinn Fein deputy leader since 2009, and was the party’s first MEP, serving between 2004 and 2009 when she lost her European Parliament seat to the Socialist Party’s Joe Higgins.
In her five years as an MEP she distinguished herself on a range of subjects, including Employment Policy and led the party’s then Eurosceptic stance against the Treaty of Lisbon. She has been a TD since 2011.
Mr Adams, whose hold on the party has been waning in recent years as more and more members see him as a potential liability to the party’s ascent to sharing in government in Dublin – partially because of his failure to grasp complex, often economic, briefs and because of the enmity felt to him by other party leaders – did not mention Ms McDonald as a potential successor in his Ard Fheis speech in Ballsbridge.
He did say that the appointment of his successor would be transparent and that he or she would not be ‘anointed’.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, whose party currently keeps Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael in minority government in Dublin was quick to dispel suggestions of entering coalition with Sinn Fein. The parties are bitter rivals in several constituencies.
Mr Martin said: “I describe Sinn Fein as a cult, a party that enforces rigid control from the centre. We learned from intelligence reports two years ago that the IRA Council essentially controls elements of what happened in Sinn Fein in the past. It is part of the reason why people are leaving.
“The other leaders in Sinn Fein have refused to disassociate themselves from the terrible atrocities of the IRA and they keep defending the IRA. “Gerry Adams said those who carried out the murder should not face prosecution and he was supported by Mary Lou McDonald and others.
“ It was the same in relation to Thomas Slab Murphy. Mary Lou describes Slab Murphy as a fine republican.
“From 1975 onwards a huge stepping up of the military campaign occurred. Gerry Adams endorsed and supported that and it went on for a long time.
“He supported and endorsed a campaign that was pointless, meaningless and resulted in extraordinary devastation, death and destruction to Northern Ireland.”
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