Belfast Telegraph

Philip Ryan: How Mary Lou has handled scandals is evidence that she isn't up to job

Philip Ryan
Philip Ryan

By Philip Ryan

Sinn Fein isn't used to losing. If you put aside their two attempts for the Irish presidency, they have made gains in every election over the last 10 years.

They have increased their representation in local government, European Parliament, in Stormont and in the Dail.

Gerry Adams' leadership has always been riven with questions, whether over his alleged leadership of the Provisional IRA, or his assumed apologist role in politics. Despite all of this, Mr Adams did have a gravitas that appealed to some voters.

Replacing him with Mary Lou McDonald was touted as a major milestone for the party.

They would set themselves free from the shackle of Provisional IRA's terror campaign.

Sinn Fein under Ms McDonald would be a socialist republican movement which would fill the gap in Irish politics caused by the implosion of Fianna Fail and the Irish Labour Party in successive elections.

Taking over from Mr Adams was never going to be easy for Ms McDonald. He was the west Belfast-born former Long Kesh prisoner who watched friends and family members die during the Troubles, while she was the privately schooled south Dublin woman whose first party of choice was Fianna Fail.

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That said, her Dail and media performances were always a cut above her predecessor and there was nothing to suggest the transition would be anything other than a success.

But that analysis was completely wrong because her leadership has been utterly abysmal so far.

Before looking at the party's dreadful local Irish election result it is worth examining the events that caused it which date back a year or two.

The bullying scandal that gripped Sinn Fein in the aftermath of Mr Adams stepping down has impacted the party. During a two-year period up to the summer of 2018, Sinn Fein saw a total of 37 local representatives step down from their seats.

This included 10 leaving for personal reasons while five were expelled, eight resigned and a further 14 quit amid accusations of bullying. The scandal was the first real controversy Ms McDonald faced as leader and her handling of the crisis could come to define her time as president - for however long that might be.

Losing almost 40 councillors was always going to cause an issue for a party before a local election. But when those you forced out decide to run against you've got a bigger problem.

Many of these councillors had their names on the ballot papers on Friday as independent candidates. It was always going to come back to haunt Ms McDonald and her party. Early counts show the exiled councillors are performing very well.

In-fighting in political parties is far from unusual but losing more than a dozen sitting politicians over internal rows in the year before an election is not normal politics.

After the 2014 local election, Dublin became the Sinn Fein heartland. They held the most seats on South Dublin County Council and Dublin City Council.

The vote count last night showed their representation on both Dublin City Council and South Dublin County Council has been decimated.

Ms McDonald put on a brave face on Saturday afternoon when she spoke to journalists. She said Sinn Fein is not a party of "cry babies" and insisted real leadership comes at times of crisis.

There has always been questions over where the real leadership lies in Sinn Fein. Is Ms McDonald really in charge or is she taking orders from Belfast?

If she really is the boss she bears the full responsibility for the election failings and she should prepare for internal dissent which will make the trouble she faced with her councillors seem like a playground squabble.

There was already disquiet over her leadership but the coming weeks could see the notoriously private Sinn Fein internal rows become very public as she scrambles to hold on to power.

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