Wednesday 24 January 2018

Andrew Lynch: Sinn Fein is still not ready for the harsh reality of governing

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams delivers his keynote speech during the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis at the Millennium Forum, Londonderry
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams delivers his keynote speech during the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis at the Millennium Forum, Londonderry

Gerry Adams is obviously trying to soften his image. During his televised address to the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis on Saturday evening, he wore novelty socks covered with cute yellow ducks.

In fact, the whole event showed that Gerry still has a yellow streak - because he seems to be shying away from the prospect of entering Government Buildings after next year's election.

The Ard Fheis's most important moment had nothing to do with Adams's speech. It came on Friday night when delegates voted against being the junior partner in a coalition led by Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

As any opinion poll will tell you, that dramatically reduces the chances of Sinn Fein being in power at all - and yet the leader's enthusiastic response suggests he is not bothered.

Officially, the Shinners are offering to head up an Irish version of Greece's Syriza movement, aided by smaller socialist parties and like-minded Independent TDs. In reality, they must know this is a real long-shot.

For a start, they would need another huge jump in support to have the numbers.

This is why Adams has decided to play a longer game. He hopes to at least double Sinn Fein's total of 14 TDs in Dail Eireann next year, falling short of victory but establishing themselves as undisputed leaders of the opposition.

That kind of result would set the party up nicely for another election in 2021, when a pure left-wing coalition could be a more realistic possibility.

In other words, Sinn Fein are adopting an 'all or nothing' strategy. While Adams might be able to enter government next year by propping up Enda Kenny or Micheal Martin, he knows full well that the policy compromises involved would shatter his reputation.

In an ideal world, Gerry would love to be in charge north and south for the centenary of the 1916 Rising - but his colleagues reckon that they can sit it out just a little longer.

At the age of 66, Adams must realise that this long-term approach destroys his chances of ever becoming Taoiseach. In several recent interviews, he has admitted as much.

The message is clear. Gerry knows that the whiff of IRA sulphur makes him unacceptable to many southern voters and he will stand aside for Mary Lou McDonald when the time is right.

Since Sinn Fein does not really expect to be running the country in twelve months' time, it now has the luxury of making all sorts of reckless promises. The Ard Fheis featured constant boasting that a SF-led government will scrap water charges, abolish property tax and take 200,000 workers out of the Universal Social Charge.

When asked where the €4.25bn to pay for this would come from, the answer is always some version of 'soak the rich' - which in practice means hiking the marginal tax rate for people earning over €100,000 to a whopping 59pc.

Finance spokesman Pearse Doherty is no fool. He must be well aware that his figures do not add up, since they assume that not one single Irish millionaire would leave the country. So Sinn Fein are quite happy to dangle such carrots, knowing they will never actually be put to the test.

Other parties in Leinster House find it hard to understand the Shinners' crafty tactics. Then again, the whole point of their latest Ard Fheis was to show how different they are.

At the Millennium Forum in Derry, conference speakers regularly paid tribute to their comrades in the IRA. MEP Matt Carthy got one of the weekend's biggest cheers for telling Britain's royal family they will not be welcome at next year's Easter Rising events.

You could no longer buy 'Danger - Sniper at Work' t-shirts in the Ard Fheis foyer, but a bodhran was on sale depicting hunger-striker Bobby Sands alongside Che Guevara and Nelson Mandela.

Allegations of sex abuse cover-ups, $12m in US donations and sick jokes about holding newspaper editors at gunpoint, on the other hand, were notable by their absence.

Sinn Fein's unofficial motto has always been 'Tiocfaidh ar la'. Maybe so, but this Ard Fheis showed one thing very clearly - Gerry Adams is still too much of a coward to leave his comfort zone, duck socks or no duck socks.

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