Belfast Telegraph

It takes a healthy democratic party to stand up to top man but that won't happen in SF

By Malachi O'Doherty

Some senior members of Sinn Fein must have been privately disheartened to read the title of Gerry Adams' new book. It is due out in November, in time to go on sale at the stall in the Ard Fheis, and it is called Never Give Up.

This is going to read to some like a hint that he personally will never give up his leadership of Sinn Fein, and that his long goodbye will exhaust all those around him.

His announcement that he will put himself forward for election at the coming Ard Fheis and then announce plans for the generational change is just too confusing for those who hoped he might go now and give others a chance to lead and shape the party.

It includes the message that he is going, but also suggests that he will stay until he has reshaped the future party to his liking.

And we have seen how he does that, in his anointing of Michelle O'Neill as 'Northern leader', a post that previously didn't exist.

This must be hugely exasperating to people with ambitions to lead the party themselves.

Mary Lou McDonald must be having kittens at the thought that Gerry will still be in charge at the time of the next election in the south, thereby scuppering the prospects of a coalition with Fianna Fail.

And the other part of the message yesterday is that there really will be no early return to devolution in the north. The Irish Language Act remains a red line.

The 27 MLAs and their support staff might be thinking it is all very well for Gerry Adams with properties and his pensions in the bag to jeopardise their livelihood, but they have mortgages and mouths to feed. Not one of them is stepping forward to voice a contrary opinion.

Gerry Adams clearly doesn't think Sinn Fein can manage without him, or at least until he has bound it to following his prescription for another decade.

Such hubris is probably part of the necessary personal equipment for any ambitious political leader. You have to think you are indispensable and banish doubt.

Gerry Adams has more experience than most of enduring opprobrium, denying the obvious and never giving up.

He kept faith with the IRA through the most grotesque atrocities. When a huge upsurge of revulsion with the paramilitaries produced the Peace People in the Seventies, it was Adams who stepped forward to tell them that they didn't know what they were talking about and that they were lackeys of the imperialists.

But perhaps decades of putting up with condemnation and contempt thickens the skin a bit too much.

Then it takes a healthy democratic party to stand up to a leader.

That doesn't seem likely to happen in Sinn Fein.

Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, had almost total control of the Tory party and the adulation of the electorate, yet she had to bow to the grey suits when her time was up. So did Blair.

But Adams combines a similarly messianic sense of self-importance with leadership of a party that is in thrall to him.

There is one recurrent theme in his writings and it is the reminder of how much he is loved, how even destiny bends to his favour, as in his memoir Before The Dawn when he tells us that the demands of the hunger strikers were conceded on his birthday.

Well, he is loved. No doubt about it.

But Brutus loved Caesar and yet knew he had to go.

And Gerry Adams may not be serving his party by insisting on putting his stamp on its future.

Some day, he has to let it grow up and carry on without him.

  • Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life by Malachi O'Doherty is published by Faber & Faber, £14.99

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