Belfast Telegraph

TV debate ‘snub’ for Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams may be blessing in disguise

By Liam Clarke

Publicly, Sinn Fein are protesting about not being on tonight’s RTE Prime Time party leaders’ debate, the key one of the Irish election campaign.

Privately, some party supporters are satisfied enough that the line-up will be confined to the big three Dail parties of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail.

It means that other leaders, more experienced in southern politics, won’t be able to stoke lingering doubts about Gerry Adams’ alleged IRA record or his knowledge of the economy.

At this point it is more important to rivals landing a glove on him, particularly Micheal Martin whose once mighty Fianna Fail machine is battling Sinn Fein for third place in the Dail.

As things stand the republican party is set for a step-change in Dail representation.

It is likely to easily pass the seven-seat threshold for being recognised as an opposition party in the Dail with full speaking rights, offices, research facilities and other privileges.

Despite a 1% drop in the most recent poll in yesterday’s Irish Times, it is still favourite to double or even treble its current Dail representation of five seats.

Sinn Fein don’t want to risk any slip-ups.

A poor performance by Gerry Adams in a 2007 RTE debate saw the party vote plummet below predictions.

In 2007 Adams was pinned down on points of economic detail by Michael McDowell of the Progressive Democrats.

It hurt Sinn Fein, but Mr McDowell’s party was destroyed, regardless of his debating victory.

The PDs lost six of their eight seats and this year they have |disappeared from the ballot paper altogether.

So there is more to be lost than gained in high-wire TV debates in the final days before polling.

Sinn Fein is pleased that Gerry Adams’ personal support is holding up despite a critical media and some underlying suspicion of him.

An earlier poll showed that the vast majority of people don’t |believe him when he denies being in the IRA and don’t trust him on the economy either, but 29% are still satisfied with the way he is doing his job.

That is up two points on the |beginning of the month when his candidacy was announced, and well above Sinn Fein’s 11% support.

The Irish Times polling was completed last Thursday, two days before an ‘Anyone But Adams’ campaign was launched by Helen McKendry, the daughter of Jean McConville, a Belfast widow who was killed and secretly buried in the Louth constituency.

Mr Adams denies claims that he was involved in the abduction.

Paula McCartney, the sister of IRA murder victim Robert |McCartney, joined the protest and believes it made an impact.

However, even after factoring that in, Drogheda bookmaker Paul Kingston makes Adams 20/1 on favourite to take a seat.

“People who are supporting Sinn Fein already know about these accusations and have taken them into account,” Mr Kingston said.

He believes Mr Adams would take about 20% of the first-|preference vote in the four-seat constituency and get elected to the second of four seats.

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