Popularity upsurge sees Adams at a crossroads

Gerry Adams....faced with a big decision.
Gerry Adams....faced with a big decision.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Being in government is like buying a new car – as soon as you drive away from the forecourt, it starts to lose value. Sinn Fein has a very big decision to make in 2016, or maybe in late 2015. Gerry Adams gave a strong hint of the weekend about his party’s intentions after the next general election.

He told over 200s councillors (well over 100 newly elected), TDs, Senators, MLAS, MPS and MEPS that the party would need to begin preparing for government.

He made a point of telling delegates that he did not want his party to be like Labour.

Sinn Fein, he said, would not be a party that would give cover to the policies of a Conservative party.

Of course, like all political speeches, Adams went long on aspiration but very short on detail. Rhetoric is the discourse of opposition parties.

That is fine and dandy. The Labour Party did very well in opposition when spelling out absolutely no details about policy.

It was only when Eamon Gilmore was challenged about his tax and spending plans that Labour support dropped back.

So what do we know about Sinn Féin? Well, at the weekend Gerry Adams spoke specifically about only one issue – republicanism.

Which is fair enough. A united Ireland is at the heart of Sinn Féin’s objectives.

There is only one snag with that particular approach. The party’s image in the South has very little to do with a United Ireland. Sinn Fein has forged its reputation down here not on uniting the island but as a protest party. It has opposed austerity, property taxes, water charges and health card cuts among many other issues.

And though it has produced costed budges alternatives, the figures do not really add up. Even if the party were in a single party government, those figures would not be attainable. Not in a million years.

So what is the party going to retain and what is it going to ditch in coalition, it the numbers are pointing to a combination of Sinn Féin and one of the two traditional parties?

Well, the only matter on which Adams nailed his mast (under questioning from Cathal Mac Coille on Morning Ireland) was on the property tax. Pearse Doherty had told the Sunday Business Post the previous day that Sinn Féin would scrap the tax in government. Adams agreed. So that’s a non-negotiable then.

But beyond that he would not go. He was pressed by Mac Coille on Sinn Féin’s budget submission which proposed a 48 per cent tax for those earning over €100,000. But he refused to commit on this and other matters, saying the party needed to identify its policy priorities.

The moment a party enters coalition its value diminishes, and it will lose the votes of a portion of floating voters forever. Sinn Féin knows it won’t get away with vague rhetoric and will be required to spell out the rhyme and reason of all its policy positions.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune