Why Gerry Adams’s trips look a bit rich now
Sinn Fein is the Paris Hilton of Northern Ireland’s political parties. It has more money than all the rest.
And it splashes the cash more than all the rest. In 2008 it had an income of £1.12m but actually spent £1.15m.
In the same period, by contrast, the SDLP had an income of £291,931 and spent £290,169.
I won’t bore you with all the figures, but overall Sinn Fein in 2008 came close to spending almost the same as all three other major parties put together.
And that was only its layout in the north.
In local political terms this is fabulous wealth indeed.
The party that used to style itself the underdog is actually the fat cat of local politics. But has it got value for its money?
True, in Northern Ireland Sinn Fein remains electorally buoyant and, although it took a kicking in the most recent elections down south, the party is still in business there too.
The thing is, Sinn Fein’s chief aim — Irish unity — seems as far from being realised as ever.
To the point where Gerry Adams has this year launched himself on a bizarre international odyssey seemingly with the objective of persuading people in other lands to band together to “persuade” unionists into 32-county togetherness. (Next up — the “Make Partition History” concert? )
While unionists wonder if perhaps Gerry, as he circumnavigates the globe, may be overestimating his dazzling powers of persuasion, the republican grassroots are looking for some persuading themselves.
What has been described as Gerry’s gap-year project is not stopping loads of pointed questions now being asked about the overall direction and leadership of the party.
In the south in particular they’re demanding clarification (to use an old peace-processing term) on just what exactly the party stands for these days.
Not in the woolly terms of a 32-county socialist republic with optional equality, justice and tree-hugging bolt-ons.
But in real bread-and-butter terms. What about the economy down south for starters?
It was Gerry’s poor televised showing on that issue which was initially said to have unsettled those voters in the Republic who might otherwise have cast a first or second preference Sinn Fein’s way.
The party is seen by some southern activists as much too northern-orientated.
And as for Gerry himself, the once unthinkable is now being voiced so widely that recently he has had to stress that no, he was not going to go away you know.
Back in the day Sinn Fein was famously (or infamously) the party where dissent was never, ever voiced in public.
But the dissenters are currently building a head of steam and who knows where it will all finish?
What this means is that, on top of uniting Ireland, Gerry now faces the task of first reuniting his party.
The Sinn Fein version of a struggle to make ends meet