From top: Gerry Adams during his Presidential Address at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis last weekend; Dan Boyle

A Brave New World awaits Sinn Féin Mark Six, the political party which came out of the Hunger Strikes of 1981, inheriting the Sinn Féin franchise as the minority of the minority of the minority of those who had previously laid claim to that title.

Its Moses like leader, the benighted Gerry Adams, having almost led his people to the Promised Land (and having done so five years more quickly than his biblical predecessor), is about to step aside and allow someone else lead his people into Israel (sorry Stormont, sorry government in Dublin).

Making fun of the Dear Leader will probably reawaken the trolls in their hundreds. Let me seek to correct myself. Gerry Adams has been one of the most significant figures of modern Irish politics. He deserves respect and admiration for the way he has led his movement from a fruitless, violent path, towards democratic respectability.

His party is now firmly ensconced as the third force in Ireland. Its mathematical strength may yet bring about a historic realignment in Irish politics.

And yet. The achievement has not been solely his. The Peace Process could never have happened, if it weren’t for John Hume. Without him the initiative would not have gotten off the ground. His reward, in a life now lived in shadows, has been to be minimised and marginalised, especially by the Republican movement.

The role played by Martin McGuinness was equally as important in helping to put, and keep Gerry Adams where he was.

The initiation of the Peace Process with Hume, and the directing and managing of the Republican movement with McGuinness, have been Gerry Adams’ greatest achievements. Achievements for which he should be continually acknowledged.

It is his subsequent role as a political leader that deserves a critique. After the Good Friday Agreement the political growth of Sinn Féin was slow and patchy.

At the 2007 general election the party actually lost a seat. It took the arrival of the International Monetary Fund to the country,and the subsequent election of Pearse Doherty in the Donegal South West by election, for the party to begin its upward trend in support.

Much new support was easily gained through a slavish addiction to the politics of No. Whenever the party nudged towards being more responsible, it found itself going backwards, such as when the Anti Austerity Alliance beat Sinn Féin to the punch over the issue of water charges during the Dublin South West by-election in 2014.

Sinn Féin has been thought to have a glass ceiling on its potential support, as long as Gerry Adams remained its leader. A bright new future awaited the party, as and when Gerry decided it would be time to move on.

This analysis may have been oversold. There are many negatives that attach to Sinn Féin, that exist regardless of who its leader is. A further bee in the bonnet is that Adams may have made this change too late.

This indicates that any bounce the party may expect may not as deep or as long lasting as it hopes for. No Big Bang is likely.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle



Looking for a political stocking filler?

Dan Boyle’s new book ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ is being published by the History Press on November 27.