Belfast Telegraph

Despite failed promises, Gerry Adams can't bring himself to let go of power

By Suzanne Breen

Gerry Adams was never the type of leader to go quietly into the night. But the Sinn Fein president is making an unprecedented song and dance about his retirement.

He is seeking re-election at November's Ard Fheis at which details will be revealed of the party's "process of generational change". So what could have been a quick adieu has become the long goodbye with Gerry in the limelight all the while.

Talk of Sinn Fein's "10-year plan" is reminiscent of Stalinist Russia, not 21st century Ireland. But it's in keeping with a party where democratic centralism thrives, with a small clique making the key decisions.

There is huge loyalty to Adams within Sinn Fein ranks but that alone can't explain why he has remained leader for 34 years without challenge.

A radical republican party would be expected to enjoy a livelier internal life than that with at least an occasional clash of ideas and jockeying for position.

Sinn Fein members enjoy fewer democratic rights than those in any other nationalist party. The SDLP's entire membership elects delegates to choose their leader.

There were complaints when Leo Varadkar won the Fine Gael leadership in June on the votes of the party's parliamentary party despite most grassroots members supporting Simon Coveney.

But Sinn Fein's northern leader Michelle O'Neill was put in place without any ballot of the membership. She was simply proposed by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, and rubber stamped by the ard chomhairle.

While Sinn Fein members would undoubtedly slam such a lack of democratic procedure elsewhere, they seem content with the set up in their own party.

Mary Lou McDonald is Adams' anointed successor and, to her credit, she says she wants a contest for the job, not an ordination.

Given her solid middle-class background and past Fianna Fail membership, she is wise enough to know that assuming the leadership without an election would weaken her position significantly from the start.

Because Mary Lou can never rely on the sort of loyalty from grassroots that Adams and McGuinness inspired.

That unwavering commitment is for men who brought the movement through the war, the hunger-strike, and all those dark, dreadful days - not for a woman from south Co Dublin who was filmed shopping for prawns.

McDonald lacks even Michelle O'Neill's family links with the conflict. The Sinn Fein deputy leader needs to secure the top job sooner rather than later.

Peter Robinson became a figure of fun for being Ian Paisley's bridesmaid for too long and Mary Lou is in danger of the same scenario if Adams doesn't swiftly leave the stage.

The Sinn Fein president's political longevity shouldn't be confused with success. Judged by his own past words, he has failed.

As a young man he vowed that the IRA campaign would continue until it ended victoriously with a British withdrawal.

As a middle-aged man speaking after the IRA ceasefire, he predicted a united Ireland by 2016.

Now he's reduced to calling for a border poll which republicans are doomed to lose.

In any other party that would be deemed failure. But Sinn Fein's cult of leadership means they'll continue applauding as Gerry dances on - despite decades of broken pledges.

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