Sinn Féin facing balancing act for the future

Gerry Adams speaking at a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis.

There is never a right time to go. But, surrounded by his loyal supporters, Gerry Adams is tonight expected to announced he will stand aside as president of an organisation he has led for more than half of his 69 years, writes Elaine Loughlin.

Whether he decides to lay out the exact wheres and whens of his departure remains to be seen, but the party has been working on a 10-year plan and a changing of the guard is a significant part of this overhaul.

The party is certainly at a crossroads, and that was clear at the ard fheis last night when members, who up until very recently would have been militantly opposed to any deal with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, opened the door on going into government with these two parties after the next general election.

Indeed, with last year’s general election came a raft of fresh-faced TDs and senators into Leinster House, swelling the party’s benches.

While Sinn Fein has enjoyed a bounce, increasing support and membership has not come without its teething problems. There have been numerous allegations of bullying at a local level right across the country, with a number of locally elected members deciding to leave or being expelled from the party.

That transition also includes a clearing out of those of the same vintage as Mr Adams and the late Martin McGuinness .

With the new generation of leaders such as Mary Lou McDonald, Pearse Doherty, and Eoin Ó Broin in the Dáil and the likes of Michelle O’Neill and Conor Murphy taking up the mantle in the North, the party is eking out a new image.

In her speech last night, Ms McDonald laid this out, claiming that “our job is to build a movement capable of truly transforming politics on this island”.

It will be a precarious balancing act for whoever takes over the party to retain its nationalist roots while attracting more of the middle ground.

Indeed, Sinn Féin will have to dilute its lily-wearing, ballad-singer-wrapped-in-a-Tricolour image before middle Ireland accepts the party a as credible option on the ballot paper.

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