Where now for Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams?


Since first becoming MP in 1983, Gerry Adams has consolidated a strong position in his west Belfast constituency.

A five year period in the 1990s - when moderate nationalist Joe Hendron of the SDLP wrestled the seat from his grasp - proved only a minor dip in Mr Adams's support.

At the last general election in May, the 62-year-old won more than 70% of the total vote.

Barely six months on, the party president has surprised many observers by announcing he will resign from the seat to stand instead for election to the Irish parliament in Dublin.


Fighting for the seat currently held by his party colleague Arthur Morgan, Mr Adams is taking a calculated risk.

While most commentators believe he will be elected in his chosen constituency of Louth, the voters decide and he cannot be certain until all the ballots are counted.

If he is elected, then how will he manage the transition from being head of the second biggest political force in Northern Ireland to probably being one of only a handful of Sinn Fein representatives in the Irish parliament?

Another question mark is over who will succeed Mr Adams when he steps down as an MP and whether he or she will be able to inherit his political stardust.

While former IRA hunger striker Pat Sheehan was picked to be his Stormont successor on Tuesday, the Westminster mantle seems more likely to go an established name.


Seasoned Irish political commentator Fionnuala O'Connor believes Mr Adams is taking a chance but one born as much out of necessity as choice.

She said: "It is a calculated risk but one that has a certain logic to it.

"Gerry Adams has been looking purposeless at Stormont. His position has always been valuable to Sinn Fein as a figurehead but he is now a man in need of a role.

"It will not be easy because the Dail is a rough old place and he is not good at all with the kind of irreverence he will find there."

How it will all turn out for Sinn Fein, she adds, remains quite opaque.

"This is possibly the most volatile time in politics in the south that I can ever remember. We do not know what will come out of it, but it is possible that there will be an entirely new kind of politics."

Various candidates have been mooted as potential successors in Mr Adams's Westminster seat including Lagan Valley MLA Paul Butler or one of the party's West Belfast assembly members such as Paul Maskey.

For Fionnuala O'Connor one name leaps out.

"Alex Maskey is another man who is high profile but again is somewhat in need of a role. I think if he is willing to take it on then it is hard to see past him."


Writing on his blog, the journalist and commentator Jude Collins agrees the move is a gamble for Gerry Adams, but one he expects him to win.

He adds: "Had Adams gone after a non-Sinn Fein seat or gone head-to-head with some senior figure in one of the other political parties, tried to break new ground for Sinn Fein, that would have been truly daring."

Image caption,
Alex Maskey has been suggested as a possible successor to Adams

For Collins, the most pertinent question is the impact it will have across the south.

"Will his presence in the race provide the electrical surge that's needed if republicanism in the south is to be revitalised and resume its onward march? Six months from now we should have the answer."

In terms of the succession, he feels it is a choice between an established candidate like Alex Maskey or a candidate in their 30s chosen for the long-term.

He said: "Picking an older candidate would be a short-term move, going for a sort of holding position.

"It is possible that they could go for someone younger, but a name does not immediately jump out."

Sinn Fein also have a history of "parachuting", dropping in someone not previously associated with a constituency, like Martin McGuinness in Mid-Ulster and Mitchel McLaughlin in South Antrim.

So what of a Gerry Kelly or a Caitriona Ruane for West Belfast? Not likely, says Collins.

"As far as an outsider is concerned, I tend to think it will be someone from within the constituency.

"Parachuting has already been mentioned in terms of Gerry Adams, and I think that they might feel a double parachute would be a bit difficult to sustain."

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