Going Backstage, Not Offstage


From top: Gerry Adams with Mary Lou McDonald (front centre) at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in the RDS, Dublin on Saturday. Derek Mooney

After months of will he, won’t he, Gerry Adams, Irish politics enduring enigma has announced that he plans to shortly stand aside as leader.

Cue the long lap of [dis]honour as his fans hail the great negotiator and peacemaker and his detractors remind them that he was even more responsible for the mayhem and pain that preceded the peace. Yes, he is entitled to top marks for his role in the peace process, but his total score has to be calculated over his whole career, not just the heavily revised latter portion.

Adams’ longevity is due to many factors, not least his enigmatic persona. What we know about Adams is what he wants us to know, whether it is his penchant for writing poetry, his fondness for his teddy bear and crème eggs or his passion for naked trampolining with his dog. The Adams that he would have us know is a mass of contradictions that allows some to project onto him all those talents and skills they would wish to have in a leader.

But the reality is very different. The real Adams is rarely on show, but when it is, it is unpleasant, especially when he does not think he is on the record as with his November 2014 Enniskillen speech or his responses to the provo victims.

It is also easy to seem like a skilled negotiator when you have a band of paramilitaries and a cache of weaponry that others want you to dismantle. Curious how Adams’ abilities as a negotiator have diminished since decommissioning?

Adams standing down as leader should not be confused with him relinquishing the leadership of the provisional movement. Instead, Adams moves from centre stage to behind the curtain, but have no doubt that his control, not to mention that of the others on the Army Council, will not be surrendered just yet.

If you don’t believe me then look at the situation north of the border. There Michelle O’Neill is the de jure leader, but the de facto leader remain Adams. Indeed the early and untimely death of Martin McGuinness allowed Adams and his coterie of old Belfast comrades to increase and strengthen their grip on the organisation in the North. The Northern party, once the bedrock of the Shinners set up, now must play second fiddle to the needs of the organisation in the South.

Michelle O’Neill is no accidental puppet, she was picked specifically for the role as she knew and accepted the limits that would be placed on her. This is not acquiescence, it is the provo-real-politik. She knows who truly runs the show and she is fine with that.

Just as Mary Lou will be fine with a similar situation on this side of the border. Mary Lou does not flatter herself to think that she will actually be anything more than a titular leader who will deal with the minor day-to-day tribulations while Gerry and the lads handle the big stuff, she just hopes we will not realise this – a point I will come back to, shortly.

But moving backstage does not mean that nothing at all will change. With Adams departure the provos lose their biggest celebrity whose draw and pulling power when it comes to media attention and fund raising, should not be underestimated.

While Adams will still exercise leadership over the big policy questions and directions from behind the curtain, the provos will soon feel the loss of his authority and presence when it comes to exercising day-to-day discipline and control.

Answering Mary Lou back will not be as scary and foolhardy a notion as answered Adams would have been. Unlike Adams, Mary Lou cannot invoke the whiff of cordite to engender respect and dominion.  The closest Mary Lou has come to cordite is the bang bang chicken in Wongs of Castleknock

She may wish that she had to judge from her eagerness to preside at provo gatherings, but she didn’t. Back in those more troubled and difficult days she eschewed the provo chic and was more content in Fianna Fáil in Dublin West. Indeed this, and her wish that she had taken a more central and prominent role in the past which may prove her greatest undoing.

Remember that apparent Dail dust-up between Mary Lou and the Taoiseach back in September? Most political correspondents saw the row as being provoking by comments made by Leo Varadkar. But they missed the real cause. While Mary Lou’s exit from the Dail chamber may have immediately followed Varadkar’s remarks, they did not cause it.

Fans of the West Wing will recall an early episode entitled Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc loosely translated as: after therefore because of. In the episode Bartlet points out that this is rarely the case in politics that because one action follows another that it was caused by it.

So it is with the Mary Lou dramatic exit. The comments that really got under Mary Lou’s skin came from Micheál Martin in an exchange a few minutes before.

The Toaiseach was answering questions on British-Irish relations in both the context of Brexit and the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland. Martin referred to his own experience of negotiating with the British when Mary Lou chimed in, the following exchange comes from that day’s Dáil transcript:

Mary Lou McDonald: “Deputy Martin’s words demonstrate remarkable ignorance.”

Micheál Martin: “I have been there. I have been in negotiations with all parties.”

McDonald: “I have been there with the Deputy.”

Martin: “Deputy McDonald was not. She was never in negotiations.”

McDonald: “I have, and I have seen Deputy Martin at close quarters.”

Martin: “When I was Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy McDonald, was nowhere. What tended to happen was that certain people came out for the photo calls. The Deputy was never at negotiations with me or Shaun Woodward. Commitments that were given then were not dealt with or seen through.”

My point is that it was not the Taoiseach’s name calling and needling that got under McDonald’s skin, she is far too wilely and experienced to allow something that innocuous to irk her.

No, it was Martin disclosing her non-role in the talks and reminding her, publicly, that she has not been the central player she would have others, even within Sinn Féin, imagine her to be.

It is her Achilles heel then and will become a greater vulnerability as leader.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Tuesday morning. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

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66 thoughts on “Going Backstage, Not Offstage

  1. LeopoldGloom

    ” but his total score has to be calculated over his whole career, not just the heavily revised latter portion.”

    Just like you so, and the utterly miserable govermnent that you were involved with in your consultancy role.

    1. Rob_G

      Bad as Michael Martin was/is, I’m fairly sure he has never ordered anyone murdered and dumped in an unmarked grave.

      1. Andrew

        No but the article displays a sneaking regard for those who have by trying to diminish Mary Lou because she doesn’t have that association.
        This sneaking regard is perfectly in line with Fianna Faíl’s support and bar stool posturing over the years. Michéal Martin included.
        It worked for Haughey and it still works for Fianna Faíl who call themselves THE republican party

      2. LeopoldGloom

        I’m not claiming he did, more pointing out that the government this writer actively consulted for was all in all calamitous and we are still a long way from recovery

        1. Rob_G

          This is true – I am just drawing the distinction between the author’s ‘whole career’ (being involved in a government that brought about economic collapse) and Gerry’s ‘whole career’ (killing people).

          Derek’s crimes and misdemeanors, while bad, is nowhere comparable to Gerry’s.

    2. Abaddon


      The worst government this country had was the Green\FF coalition. Derek Mooney and Dan Boyle were part of that coalition. Both are responsible for wreaking havoc on this country with their ill thought out policies, corruption and utter gombeenism. They both now contribute to Broadsheet.

      Derek Mooney is a FF hack and nothing more. The majority of posts by Derek Mooney on Broadsheet have been attacks on SF.

      Dan Boyle has used this forum to criticise SF once or twice. Fair enough, but how many times now since Mooney started posting has he used Broadsheet to rant and attack SF?

      Both mates of Bodger I suppose….

      1. bisted

        …in fairness…neither Derek or Dan were part of the FF/Green coalition – no matter how much they wish they had been. I’d never heard of Derek until he started writing here…another FF bagman giving himself a grandiose title. And poor Dan…snatched defeat from the jaws of a green surge which swept his erstwhile colleagues right into the cabinet…Dan would have been a shoo-in for a ministerial merc…instead he had to settle for a sinecure in the Seanad and a paltry pension…politics can be cruel…Broadsheet are probably providing some kind of therapy for these windbags…

  2. Andrew

    None of this matters though. Fianna Fail and Sinn Feín will go in to power together after the next election. They are natural bedfellows.

    1. Bonkers

      I stuck a tenner on this very combination the other day. 7/1 odds were too hard to resist. The numbers add up for a FF-SF coalition.

  3. why?

    Probably true but jaysus what a nasty vile and vitriolic tone Eg

    The closest Mary Lou has come to cordite is the bang bang chicken in Wongs of Castleknock

    Oooh how amusing

    Go away you bitter bat

  4. Shayna

    Derek wouldn’t be a fan of The Boul’ Gerry then? I think there is a misogynistic undertone to his post. Michelle and Marl Lou will deal with the day, to day, whilst the big boys deal with greater things?

    1. bisted

      …even for nasty FFer like Derek this is a dreadful rant…I seldom agree with Shayna but the whiff of misogyny from this is quite pathethic. Even the most virulent anti-shinner has to admit that Mary Lou has been a formidable Dail performer and Michele O’Neill doesn’t sound like anybody’s stooge…

      1. Shayna

        @ bisted You seldom agree? Oh well. Derek touched on the whole nudity thing with Gerry, he’s a practising naturist. A friend used to date Gearóid, Gerry’s son (not a bad half-back for Antrim) – she called to the Adams’ home to be greeted by The Boul’ Gerry at the door, in his undeniables.
        I’m pretty sure there are no big boys calling the shots. It’s Mary Lou now, also Michelle in the North.

        1. Killian G

          He was probably just re-living his younger days, Shayna.

          Your friend should count herself lucky he didn’t smear his faeces on the wall and then attempt to insert a small note into her vagina.

          1. Shayna

            We did have this discussion following her encounter, but there appeared to be no faeces, nor notes involved.

          2. Candy Crush Guru

            So, Killian G, are you telling us that when your weapon is where you mentioned, that it is effectively useless?

            I am trying not to think about it decommissioning itself since that is a regret only owned by its host.

    2. Andrew

      It may come across as misogynistic but what he says about Michelle O’Neill is true, she is there as a puppet, no more than that. Do you remember a leadership election? No? If there isn’t one down South then you can take it that Mary Lou is in the same position, should she be anointed leader.
      I’d say the same if the just anointed anyone else.

      1. Shayna

        It kinda does Andrew. Michelle went to the same school as myself, also the same school as Bernadette Devlin. Anyone named O’Neill is not anyone’s puppet. (Oh, I’m O’Neill). Her dad and mine are buried next to each other in Clonoe Graveyard.
        I’m guessing you’d be a FG type. I took your bait. Last time.

          1. Killian G

            What then of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone?

            Was he not the Pope’s puppet? I believe in today’s parlance, we would refer to him as “the papal beee-atch”.

            (And, to return momentarily to modern times, don’t get me started on Ronan O’Neill – spends his life in the back pocket of any which defender)

          2. Shayna

            @ Killian G Sure, I’ll give you, “The Flight Of The Earls”, however, lessons have been learned. Also, Hugh was “The O’Neill”.
            I know nothing about soccer, I’d be a GAA type. I hope this helps you out.
            (Lots of O’Neills in Spain, by the way)

          3. Shayna

            @ Killian G Oh, I just assumed, etc. The BS readers aren’t that great with the GAA. It’s a tad more Lansdowne Rd, than Jones’s.

        1. Andrew

          Not everyone who disagrees with you is Fine Gael Shayna as much as you’d like to think so.
          Michelle Doris was her name in school, then you would know that if you went to the same school.
          You do like categorising people in to ‘types’ don’t you? ‘Rugby types’, ‘GAA types’ ‘Fine Gael Types’. I suppose it’s nice and neat for you to engage that way.

          1. Shayna

            Jeez Andrew, do tell me you’re not my fan, why don’t you? The Doris types (sorry Andrew) have been in Clonoe a long time. Michelle married an O’Neill, became an O’Neill, just as Bernadette Devlin married a McAliskey and became a McAliskey.

  5. RuilleBuille

    The FF hack Mooney has spent years making false accusations against Adams and is now making false accusations against Mary Lou.

  6. postmanpat

    enduring enigma ? Give me a break! Politicians are no more a puzzle to me than a blocked toilet is to a plumber.

  7. Bonkers

    There is a real bang of party hackery from this article. Derek Mooney is obviously still a bit annoyed that Mary Lou rejected Fianna Fail so he seeks to lay the boot into her and connect her with Adams dodgy past. The reference to Castleknock is a bit wtf, especially as she lives in Cabra.

    1. Rob_G

      I think you might be rewriting history a bit here – I thought that Mary Lou left FF because they didn’t put her name on the ballot one year?

    2. Andrew

      Ah now Cabra! It’s on the Navan Road and is quite a property. You make it sound like its a two up, two down in a sink estate. Who’s being disingenuous now?
      She left Fianna Faíl of her own accord

      1. Bonkers

        Andrew you make it sound like you have been stalking around her house with that level of detail. In anyways the Navan Road runs through Cabra, Ashtown and Blanch. take your pick but none of them are Castleknock.

  8. wellness

    A very apt piece. Sinn Fein have always been very PR savvy, trotting out the more “acceptable” face of Sinn Fein . It is why you never get the gunrunner knocking at your door come election time. It is always a woman or some baby-faced man wielding a Law Degree.

  9. Jake38

    Meeholes party brought the country to its knees due to its populist economic incompetence. McDonalds is associated with child abuse, gun running, robbery, bullying and general thuggery. Things should be great when they get together.

    1. wellness

      True but Sinn Fein have managed to elevate their moral conviction to a new level of fatuity or malevolence ( if you prefer)

  10. Steve

    Oh lol the shinnerbots are our in force this morn. West Belfast brigade deploy!!

    Probably the very same people who respond to other stuff with the “im not a SF / hard left voter but”.

    Strange that are never any SF voters on BS.

    The “election” of Mary Lou tells ye everything ye need to know about SF IRA. Cults / paramilitaries don’t elect leaders.

        1. Steve

          Couldn’t – she wasn’t in my constituency. Gave 1,2,3,4 to Donohue Costello O’Sullivan and Gannon. Made sure not to give preference to your new “leader”

          Who you vote for in 2016?

  11. ollie

    sinn fein will soon have a leader with no ira connections.fg/ff are nervous and rightly so.

    its not that long ago since fg were executing prisoners!

    1. Rob_G

      Anyone from either FG or FF (FF to a lesser extent, admittedly) who was involved in executing people are dead decades. SF still picks up Garda murderers from prison, and use unrepentant child-murderers on the canvass.

  12. anne

    The dinosaurs in the Dail seem incapable of moving on.. Gerry is going and there are young, talented people in Sinn Fein – including Mary Lou – remaining.

    It’s amazing the other peoples’ thinking people do -Mary Lou regrets this, Mary Lou regrets that’ ‘Mary Lou was really upset over this’

    ‘We can hold this & that over Gerry..Mary Lou wasn’t involved in any of the troubles but we can hold that over her too..she’s no sway’ lol

    Get the fupping boat Derek.. this is one ridiculous article.. & your bang bang chicken reference is ridiculous. It reeks of misogny too.

  13. Public Service 'Tard

    interesting how 90% of the comments above are either ‘FF are terribler’ or ‘misogynist’ and none actually deal with the substantive issue: McDonald was annoyed by Martin’s put down. Presumably the Shinners agree that she will be a puppet of the Army Council

  14. SydneyT

    The Enniskillen speech wasn’t that bad was it? Break down bigotry with equality. He called the bigots “b*st@rds”.
    Hardly worth bringing into an argument 3 years later.

  15. Candy Crush Guru

    The plume of misogyny rising upward from this article is even more pungent than the Cordite its writer introduced. Its use was only to bully an adversary that he and his party are not any match for. I might be inclined to say I am disappointed Broadsheet would even host it, but seeing the male dominant mobbing here recently it could be an ongoing theme.

    I am appalled that I find myself having to remind such a loud mouthed and long serving member of Fianna Fail that Dublin West, during the time Mary Lou McDonald would have been a feature in their hustings, was rotten with the stench of Jim Kennedy and Colm McGrath and brown envelopes. How this scene could have been forgotten by the writer is potentially a medical mystery as Frank Dunlop must have been his boss at some point in his political career. He also seems to have forgotten that Brian Lenihan Senior, of that same constituency, actually made no secret of being a liaison with Parties North of the Border long before they were given the title of Talks and their own Press Conference.

    I would ask Mr Mooney to stop trying to convince us and the electorate the Micheal Martin is able for Mary Lou McDonald. The manner in which you did so above is an insult to any gentleman.

    We are all capable of scruitinising the credentials of all the members of the Sinn Fein Parliamentary Party, and those seeking to join them. Likewise with those in the Assembly. As indeed any other Candidate that puts themselves up for election.
    Fianna Fail simply do not have any counter to the Sinn Fein brain power within its ranks and it is not capable of introducing any either.

    You and your party are too afraid of losing out on the big Ministries for Fianna Fail party men, and drop in approval and performance ratings.

    The best thing for you and any member of the main parties can do from here on in is to learn to play second fiddle and figure out a way to communicate with some decorum.

    1. Steve

      The shinner strategy for dealing with criticism of their new “leader” summed up in one pitch. It’s all misogyny.

      And the faux disappointment with BS for posting this….lol….97% of political articles on BS are anti establishment. There is about 3 from today alone ripping on the Taoiseach. One (apparently) anti SF article comes out and shinnerbots get all hot under the collar.

      Spare me

      1. Candy Crush Guru

        I can absolutely promise you all that I am nobodies Bot

        I will add to that.

        I am currently of the opinion that Mary Lou McDonald will not be the next leader of Sinn Fein.

  16. Shayna

    Whatwith, and notwithstanding, Ian Fleming married an O’Neill, Lady O’Neill. So, Ian Fleming is by marriage an O’Neill. I wasn’t ever great with going to mass as a kid, especially when it was “Mission Week”,.The priest, when I was beaten out to mass, he talked about being great friends with Ian Fleming, I was transfixed, mesmorized, all the izes. Anyhoos, Ian Fleming O’Neill is one of us.

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