Sunday 25 September 2016

All hail Caesar Adams... but his time at helm is almost over

Its members persist with the pretence that 34 years of autocratic leadership is nothing to worry about, writes Willie O'Dea

Willie O'Dea

Published 24/07/2016 | 02:30

Unchallenged: Gerry Adams pictured in 1983, the year he became Sinn Fein president — a position he holds to this day. Photo: PA
Unchallenged: Gerry Adams pictured in 1983, the year he became Sinn Fein president — a position he holds to this day. Photo: PA

Two weeks ago, I suggested that Gerry Adams should follow the example of his fellow eurosceptic, Nigel Farage, and quit as leader of his party - while it still looks like his own idea.

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I did not think for a moment that Adams would take the slightest notice of it, but I have been intrigued over the last week to see that others are starting to think along the same lines.

Even Eoin O Broin, Adams's most fervent and fawning apologist, was ready to tell the MacGill Summer School he thought it was "quite possible" that Gerry Adams would not be the party's leader in five years' time.

In any other political organisation, particularly one where the man at the top was entering their 34th year as leader, O Broin's comments, and his acknowledgement that there will come a time when Adams is no longer the leader, would not have been seen as some sort of major concession.

But this is Sinn Fein. This is not a normal, functioning political party. In Sinn Fein, it is almost treasonous to concede that you could ever countenance the great leader not continuing in office forever, like the Chinese leaders that Charlie Haughey once spoke of going on into their 80s.

O Broin spoke too soon and spoke too far. He made the mistake that some in the business of political punditry also make and imagined that Sinn Fein is normalising.

Within days, Adams was scotching any suggestion that he would think of moving on.

And while it is understandable that no leader of a normal political party would set a timeline on their leadership, be it two, five or 10 years, it is not unreasonable - after 33 years of absolute, unchallenged and unquestioned leadership - to ask how an organisation that continually claims to be republican can tolerate an imperial and autocratic leadership?

Challenging the leader is the norm, even in the most disciplined and regulated of political parties, while unquestioning obedience and absolute subservience to authority are the hallmarks of militarism.

Consider this: in almost 33 years, no one has come forward to contest the leadership.

Why is it that even Sinn Fein activists who are deeply dissatisfied with the leader never break cover to challenge the leader?

How credible is this? Does no one stand up because they presume that they could not live without Adams at the top?

Do they think the public are so naive and so gullible as to believe it is possible that this happens organically?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. They do think the voters are that easily taken in and we see them doing it time and time again. They claim to be championing those most in need, but in reality their primary goal is the advancement of their own organisation.

It is no coincidence that the part of this island where their grip is the firmest, west Belfast, is the area with the greatest level of social deprivation.

Worse still, they strive to convince those most in need that it is only Sinn Fein that is on their side.

A very recent example of this was their Dail motion last week, calling for the provision of medical cards for very sick children who are in receipt of Domiciliary Care Allowance.

It is a laudable proposal which should have been implemented years ago.

That is why it appeared in the election manifestos of the main parties, including Fianna Fail, and why it appears as a commitment in the Government's agreed programme.

It is why the minister responsible has already outlined how he would implement the policy of the Our Children's Health campaign, which had lobbied hard for the proposal.

The commitment to give these deserving children a medical card did not appear in the Programme for Government because of Sinn Fein's actions or negotiations.

How could it? They didn't negotiate or participate in the talks for even a second.

They stood outside for the entirety of the process, hectoring those who sat down to talk and criticising them for doing so. Back then, Adams and Sinn Fein valued protecting their political image much more than they rated making a difference to the lives of those who voted for them.

But now, when the proposal is about to become reality, Sinn Fein rushes in to claim the sole credit with a pointless and empty motion and an army of spin-masters that would even make Fine Gael blush.

It is a cynical tactic but, like Adams's period as leader - its time is almost up.

Willie O'Dea is the Fianna Fail TD for Limerick City

Sunday Independent

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