Sinn Féin has laughed off suggestions its long-standing leader Gerry Adams could soon step aside and that his ongoing predominance is preventing the party from reaching out to new voters who have been turned off by republican violence in the past.
The North’s deputy first minister Martin McGuinness joked that his colleague is “younger than the Pope” and laughed off claims that Mr Adams is holding the party back, when asked yesterday about the prospect of a future leadership change.
Speaking beside the Sinn Féin leader at the party’s annual pre-Dáil think-in in Co Meath, Mr McGuinness repeatedly said the party is doing all it can to progress the peace process in the North and accused rival parties on both sides of the border of failing to do enough to push relationships forward.
However, when asked if the ongoing controversy in the North puts further pressure on Mr Adams — Sinn Féin’s figurehead for three decades — to step down and allow another generation not linked to the darkest moments of the Troubles to take his place, Mr McGuinness dismissed the possibility out of hand.
“He’s younger than the Pope,” the North’s deputy first minister interjected, to a chorus of laughter, when Mr Adams was asked the question at the end of the only official media briefing at the otherwise behind-closed-doors event yesterday.
Mr Adams’ long-standing position has been an increasing topic of debate as a number of potential alternative leaders with no links to the Troubles have gained a profile within the party.
In addition, his role during that era has repeatedly played a part in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour ruling out going into office with Sinn Féin, meaning that despite the party’s significant poll gains here in recent years it will still struggle to form any part of a coalition government after the general election.
Speaking to reporters at a later meeting yesterday, the party’s deputy leader in the Dáil Mary Lou McDonald admitted it will be “a huge ask at this stage” for Sinn Féin to obtain an overall majority needed to go into power on its own. But despite the fact that rival parties’ apathy towards the organisation and its leader means it is unlikely SF will enter office in a coalition, Ms McDonald insisted the party is still focused on being in Government “at the earliest available opportunity”.
She said when the “political pantomime” involving the crisis in the North “winds down” the party will re-emphasise that it is campaigning on an anti-austerity platform and that issues like the removal of Irish Water and the property tax are what voters care most about.
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