Little to suggest Sinn Féin, even under Mary Lou, is fit for office

THE King is dead, long live the Queen, says Daniel McConnell.

Little to suggest Sinn Féin, even under Mary Lou, is fit for office

I’m sure no one in Sinn Féin will appreciate my use of such a phrase, but today marks the day when Gerry Adams formally departs the post of Sinn Féin president after 35 years at the helm.

He will be replaced by his deputy leader and protege, Mary Lou McDonald.

But she ascends to the throne amid a major cloud over her party’s handling of bullying allegations and bitter recrimination involving one of her most prominent TDs, Dessie Ellis.

An apologist for terrorism and a defender of a morally defunct cause for all of that time, Adams’ day has come and gone.

Economically limited and politically marginalised, his appeal to Southern voters had stagnated and it was clear he has taken Sinn Féin as far as he could in terms of Dáil elections.

He retires a failure, without having achieved his political ambition of a united Ireland, with his party locked out of Government North and South (all of its own making) and unwilling to take their seats in Westminster.

No problem in them taking their expenses though.

His legacy, as Micheál Martin rightly put this week, it is primarily a negative one.

“There is a fundamental point from 1975 on, there was a decision at the heart of the IRA to escalate the campaign when that ceasefire ended. Gerry Adams must realise that was a grave, grave error. And the North was plunged and he endorsed all of that, the North was plunged into 30 years of murder and mayhem. That can’t escape any assessment of Gerry Adams as leader,” Mr Martin said.

“It is a key point of reflection which is a negative one, a very negative one. [His legacy] has to be a negative one. I can’t get my head around there was 30 years of unbelievable violence, defended to the hilt by Gerry Adams, who called it a struggle.”

Such was Sinn Féin’s folly after the 2016 general election, the party ruled itself out of Government negotiations so early on that over the 72 days of formation talks, they were irrelevant.

Whereas they could have been kingmakers, they chose to be the hurlers on the ditch.

But the party has clearly realised its folly — changing its rules at its last Árd Fheis to allow it enter Government as a minority party. But just because they claim to be ready for Government, the question must be asked: Are Sinn Féin under Mary Lou genuinely a party of power?

While she may never have carried a bomb, or ordered the murder or disappearance of anyone during the Troubles, Mary Lou appears to have had no problem being an apologist for such violence or defending the merits of such violence.

And not in times past — only last year she was a keynote speaker at a commemoration honouring more than 50 of the IRA’s notorious Tyrone Brigade killed during the Troubles.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, prominent victims campaigner Kenny Donaldson said: “Mary Lou McDonald’s own fingers have never pulled a trigger nor detonated a bomb; however, her words and actions in response to those who did continues to have a chilling and deeply damaging impact upon the lives of those innocents who were so grievously harmed.”

Mr Donaldson, who heads the victims and survivors group, the South East Fermanagh Foundation, said:

“The Sinn Féin president in waiting has associated herself with a number of commemorative events to those within the republican movement, many of whom were serial killers who murdered their own neighbours because of sectarian and ethnic-motivated hatreds.”

Micheál Martin, Sinn Féin’s most viable coalition partner, numbers wise, poured scorn on any suggestion any deal was likely with her in charge. He said she has been a “prisoner” of the party’s strategy to “defend the indefensible” in terms of 30 years of violence in the North.

Mr Martin delivered a savage attack on Ms McDonald’s record of defending the armed struggle, saying she was a “good solider” to the cause.

Deliberately using militaristic language, Martin also ruled out any potential coaltion with Sinn Féin despite the change of leader: “No, I have been very clear. We won’t be going into Government with Sinn Féin. We have witnessed even in the last week some very unedifying activitivies within Sinn Fein, the degree of centralised control.”

He said that while the face of the leader may change, Sinn Féin’s commitment to democracy is questionable and rounded on McDonald.

“Mary Lou McDonald is a prisoner of Sinn Féin’s narrative of its recent past and as someone said recently she has been a good soldier within Sinn Fein in terms of holding the line and defending the indefensible,” he said.

Before Christmas, McDonald did accept there were “issues to be addressed” following a number of resignations from the party. But she denied there is a culture of bullying.

Yet, in relation to the latest bullying saga, the case involving Cllr Noeleen Reilly in Ballymun, Mary Lou was apparantly aware of the goings on for a long time.

According to Reilly, she first raised the issue with party bosses — including McDonald — as far back as 2014, and insists she was told to keep her concerns private and internal to the party.

Now, the party is of the opinion that Reilly should have alerted the gardaí about the more serious allegations, including physical assault, and that she herself was guilty of bullying another councillor, Cathleen Carney Boud, hence her six-month suspension from the party.

But Reilly has doggedly taken the war to the party by resigning on Monday and also by using social media to highlight her case.

Wherever the truth lies, it is the latest in a litany of unedifying cases to blight the party and McDonald will have to move to address them.

By any standard, the departure of up to 10% of its councillors in the space of two-and-a-bit years is a crisis. They all cannot be localised isolated incidents as the party sought to claim.

Sinn Féin’s poll ratings too have been on the slide in recent months and they are back to the level they achieved in the last general election.

In 2016, they secured 14% of the vote and 23 seats. This was up from the 14 seats won in 2011.

The conventional wisdom to date is that Sinn Féin under the Dublin Southside private-school-educated Mary Lou is a far more attractive prospect to middle Ireland and could see them cement itself in the ground formerly occupied by the Labour Party.

They too potentially pose a real threat to Fianna Fáil but it is not unreasonable to think that its recent slide in the polls is related to those ongoing internal issues.

The more too that Mary Lou is seen to make apologies for the so-called struggle, that lingering doubt of middle Ireland will remain.

Ultimately, there is little to suggest to date that Sinn Féin, even under Mary Lou McDonald, is fit for office.

READ MORE: Gerry Adams: Final draft of history likely to be kinder than the first

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