Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Bungling Adams should be kept clear of the firing line

Demoting the party leader would improve Sinn Fein's poll prospects in the Republic, argues Chris Donnelly

Gerry Adams is not an economist. In fact, he appears to know next to nothing about matters economic or financial.

His numerous mistake-ridden utterances in the southern political theatre in recent years - highlighted through a bungling performance on local radio in Louth - continues to expose a real chink in the republican armour in a state where the constitutional political vocabulary in which Adams is fluent has little currency.

Of course, Adams is far from alone in this regard. The most powerful man on earth for eight years, George W Bush, appeared not to be fluent in any political vocabulary throughout his tenure as leader and it did him not a button of harm.

Furthermore, the fact that the political leaders south of the border, who are ridiculing Adams for appearing economically illiterate, are the same individuals who presided over the calamitous collapse of the Irish economy is not something lost on the Irish people.

While it isn't uncommon for political leaders to stick to sound bites and leave the specifics of economic policies to backroom experts, the difficulty arises when those experts do not appear to be sufficiently qualified nor successful with regard to the task of briefing their political leaders when publicly addressing such matters.

Sinn Fein took a serious risk when it decided to move Adams south of the border and the party is facing a crossroads moment as it begins the election sparring. Riding on the crest of an unprecedented polling wave, the party knows that its policies are going to face greater exposure than ever before - not least because of the decision to set the party apart from the mainstream political class by opposing the IMF/EU bailout.

The most sensible option would appear to be to demote Adams' role in the election campaign, limiting his appearances to canvasses and set-piece party Press conferences which will enable the party to control the message.

But where the party would have looked in vain in the past for a figure to pass the baton to, in Pearse Doherty the party has found someone clearly willing and capable of setting to such a task.

Doherty's meteoric rise has transformed the party's profile in just a matter of months and any real gains secured by the party in the forthcoming election will be owed directly to the sprightly Donegal character who has already made mincemeat of a number of political foes in radio and TV debates.

A youthful articulate politician, Doherty has proven adept to date at espousing the party's economic policies and exposing the beam in the eyes of those ridiculing Sinn Fein in a manner in which Adams will never be able to do. Adams will not be able to cope in a party leaders debate and pride should not stump strategic decision-making. Sinn Fein is attempting to become the first party to effectively make a mark in Irish politics, north and south, since the border was established some 90 years ago - an achievement every bit as significant as the Good Friday Agreement for Irish republicanism at this juncture.

One of the most respected southern economic thinkers, David McWilliams, recently commended Doherty for making sense on the economy, a sentiment never afforded to Adams or any other leading republican north or south.

Sinn Fein acted boldly by shifting Adams southwards. It must now take similar decisive action and tactically demote the party leader if it is to capitalise on the real opportunity on the southern political field

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