Sinn Fein doesn't have a future if it can't acknowledge it has a past
ONCE, in the teeth of a very hard-fought by-election, the town of Killarney was promised a wellington-making factory by the Fianna Fail government.
You've probably guessed the second half of this morality tale. Fianna Fail's battler won the by-election. And that was the first and last that was ever heard of Killarney's wellington factory.
That happened near enough 50 years ago, back in 1966. But it came to mind at precisely 8.37pm last Saturday at the splendid Wexford Opera House as Gerry Adams addressed Sinn Fein members in the auditorium and the nation at large via RTE television.
"Sinn Fein will not make election promises that we cannot keep and Sinn Fein will keep every commitment that we make," he said.
Political predictions are best avoided because the odd time they turn out to be right, it is purely due to happenstance. But I noted the time and date of that little Adams gem and I will now venture a rare prediction.
Sinn Fein will make election promises they cannot keep. And they will not keep every commitment they make. If they do not, we will not see them in government. And they want to be in government.
That will not necessarily be Sinn Fein's fault. Voters want to know what this shower are going to do for me if I'm to vote for them. Party strategists will be trying to figure out what kind of things they can feasibly promise to win the day.
It's called politics. More properly, it is known as human nature.
Many things have changed since the infamous Killarney wellington factory promise. But political promises have only really become posher and a shade subtler.
Before big elections, promises are 'independently costed' by fellas wearing red and yellow braces over brash, smartly-tailored shirts. But for all that hocus pocus, they are still election promises. Many of them are made, many of those are kept and some are broken. The big world continues turning.
As these gatherings go, Sinn Fein had a very good ard fheis. Their members' morale is high and with good reason.
In the February 2011 General Election they scored 10pc of the vote and returned 14 TDs. There was evidence that for a variety of reasons – not least enough previous elections contested – that they are rapidly becoming transfer friendly.
Since the last general election, they have consistently averaged in the mid-teens in the opinion polls. If all went well, they could expect to have something over 20 TDs next time out.
That could leave them in a pivotal position in the making of the next government. All signs are that Sinn Fein will be with us for some time to come.
About 10 minutes before Adams took to the podium, the party's Midlands North West European Parliament candidate, Matt Carthy, announced a raft of internal election results. Carthy got a huge cheer as he mocked the Irish Independent and RTE and then announced that Gerry Adams had been re-elected president, a job he has held since 1983.
Some outsiders believe Adams really should call time on his leadership. If many among the party faithful think likewise, they hide it very well.
Listening to delegates over the two-day meeting, they easily shrugged off the triple-whammy which has hit Adams in recent months.
Sinn Fein members were not concerned about his conduct in the case of his brother's sex abuse of his own daughter; they dismissed recurring allegations about widowed mother of 10 children, Jean McConville; nor were they bothered by controversy over cavalier remarks about the murder of two RUC officers.
For many delegates, these matters – like Adams's insistence that he was never an IRA member – are a "media pre-occupation".
The party faithful do not agree, at least not openly, that these legacy issues are in fact retarding the party's progress in making a really big electoral breakthrough.
There is a basis for Sinn Fein arguing that Fianna Fail remain largely discredited for the sins of the recent past, and that Fine Gael and Labour are not delivering on their unrealistic promises of February 2011, because they never could. But none of this appears to beg internal Sinn Fein questions about how they could very well occupy much more of that empty political space if they could deal better with their past.
For now they appear happier to carp on about "the Dublin media". They must beware of that whinge which has a long association with vain attempts to excuse the most scandalous behaviour of political scoundrels.
But as the last of the Sinn Fein delegates left Wexford yesterday, their thoughts were on the local council and European Parliament elections which are now just 14 weeks away. Their three European candidates, Matt Carthy in Midlands North West, Lynn Boylan in Dublin, and Liadh Ni Riada in South all showed well at the ard fheis and appear to be people of ability – but beyond the party they are largely unknown.
Quality candidates are a good start in any election. But a hard slog lies ahead.