Thursday 27 October 2016

Bertie Ahern: Can Adams beat Dev and Chairman Mao's record for clinging on at top?

Published 13/02/2016 | 02:30

Gerry Adams with Rose Conway Walsh, the SF candidate for Mayo, with Tom Hennigan at Hennigan’s Heritage Farm in Swinford, Co. Mayo. Photo: Keith Heneghan
Gerry Adams with Rose Conway Walsh, the SF candidate for Mayo, with Tom Hennigan at Hennigan’s Heritage Farm in Swinford, Co. Mayo. Photo: Keith Heneghan

I always believed that Gerry Adams would wait around until 2016, grabbing the green spotlight. But now I'm beginning to wonder if his real ambition is to stay on top for another year; by which time he will have beaten Dev's record as our most enduring party leader. This will give him a staggering 33 years and three months at the helm.

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It puts him ahead of Chairman Mao, who only managed 33 years; Stalin clocked up 30.

Should he hang on in there even longer, Adams will be on the coat-tails of Fidel Castro, who managed 52 years. Populism pays big dividends, especially when most of the time you don't have the responsibility of office. Sinn Féin excels at generating solutions for problems that have as yet to be discovered - and problems for every solution. In short, it is against everything, and for nothing.

Simplicity sells, but the party scored a spectacular own goal with its commitment to the abolition of the Special Criminal Court.

People were in shock over the events at the Regency Hotel, a family-run business with close community ties. The gangland blood feud has led to more deaths and now journalists are being threatened.

This is not the time to axe the court. All things being equal, if people were not frightened, one might review procedures. But with the air thick with intimidation and menace, with automatic machine guns and revolvers in the streets, such a call is ill-judged.

But be under no illusions, Sinn Féin will gain a significant number of seats. Fianna Fáil and Labour made a big mistake by abandoning hard-won ground in the cities.

Unfortunately, they now reap the consequences of failing to do sufficient constituency ground work in working-class areas, allowing Sinn Féin to make a brazen land grab.

It is no more complex than that, and it can be reversed.

But for Fianna Fáil, and Labour, leaving their flanks exposed as the guardians of a fair shake for the worker, will come with a political price.

Of course, the Sinn Féin promise to be able to abolish so many taxes while balancing the books hardly stacks up. But it sounds attractive to the disaffected and the down-trodden.

The party sells a very seductive story to large working-class areas that feel abandoned by mainstream parties. Although, it was my own party that kept memories of 1916 alive since it was established in 1926. For decades, we organised commemorations all around the country in memory of the Rising, so Sinn Féin's posturing as the sole custodians of the Republic is not convincing.

The machines of the established parties ought to be breaking all this down. The Sinn Féin list of commitments may be alluring, but all that glistens is not necessarily 23-carat gold.

Cuts in social charges and a list of giveaways may yield significantly more seats.

In 2011, Sinn Féin sat on 9.9pc in the polls; by the end of 2014 it was nudging towards 24-28pc territory. It is now at 20pc or less. But it has built a strong base from council level and by pretty much being against everything.

At the same time, Mary Lou McDonald and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin also excelled in the Dáil. While I feel it will find it difficult to regain its 2014 highs, Sinn Féin always takes the long-term view and it will be well ahead of its last haul of 14 seats.

Sinn Féin has peddled a line where the big, bad State wolf is always at the door, getting its claws into the poor man's pocket.

There are issues to be addressed on fairness, pay and working conditions; people are working longer and often for less pay.

The bigger parties are finding it harder to get their message across. Yet it need not be so difficult.

Some simple facts would puncture the kind of superficial analysis being bandied about.

For instance, a climate conducive to investment is critical to create jobs. Jobs are critical to generate taxes. And taxes are vital to sustain services.

It's getting the balance right to restore a sense of fairness and social cohesion that matters most.

There is no escape from the enormity of the consequences of straying from core economic competence.

It is essential in maintaining foreign investment and guaranteeing that international confidence in our ability to manage our finances is solid.

Yet there is currently a sense where many people feel that everything is being taken from them.

They are carrying an austerity hangover which has come in the form of water charges, property taxes and the USC; income inequality on one side and being taxed out of existence on the other.

Sinn Féin is offering a quick fix, but in truth, there isn't one.

Politics is losing as a result. Parties are not exciting the public's imagination. Look at the figures, and you will see Independents holding firm at 25pc, Sinn Féin on 20pc. And those who couldn't care less are at 15pc and will not vote.

So of those that will vote, the established parties have only 56pc, the lowest ever (80pc in 2007) - not very encouraging whatever way one analyses things.

People like to back an underdog, and when the bigger parties tangle with Sinn Féin, the party claims it is being victimised and ganged up on.

Surveys carried recently in these pages show that people see the issues with crystal clarity. They want to know that the Budget arithmetic is correct, they need to see debt levels reverting to 2007 pre-crisis levels. They also want unemployment cut to 4pc and employment growing to two million.

Many of the issues we are seeing here are also playing out across the Atlantic in the US primaries.

Fairness and wage equality are key after years of belt-tightening. In the US, people are realising company profits are at their highest since the crash of 1929, yet real incomes are at a 65-year low.

This presents massive social and civic problems.

There is a growing sense that big corporations need to play a more just role. Government and corporate policy must also reflect social values.

A company's performance must be measured beyond the profit and loss accounts, taking on board wider social issues.

Strong State support in tax breaks and grants must be conditional on better corporate responsibility and fairness, not just in the boardrooms and for stock holders, but for staff and the wider society. Whatever the polls say, the consensus seems to be that we could all do a whole lot better.

Irish Independent

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