Political behemoths exit the stage to changing landscape

Gerry Adams . . . announcement marks end of a political era.
Gerry Adams . . . announcement marks end of a political era.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

History may remember it as Gerry Adams’ defining line: “They have not gone away, you know.” And it went down like honey at the rally he was addressing at the time – as did every mention of the IRA at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis last weekend. But the phrase did eventually cause a big headache for Sinn Féin and led to one of those laborious processes to essentially make them go away.

And now, Adams himself, is finally travelling along the same path.

It was a coincidence that the announcement of his departure corresponded with the end of the reign of Robert Mugabe, another long-serving leader of a revolutionary movement.

Mugabe has been there a bit longer, leader of the Zanu party for half a century, and leader of Zimbabwe since 1980. He is now almost 93.

But no more; his demise this weekend is another demonstration of the Enoch Powell line that all political careers end in failure.

Adams’ reign as leader of Sinn Féin has almost been so long. Along with Martin McGuinness, he effectively controlled the republican movement for over 20 years, with both becoming the figureheads for Sinn Féin – and probably for the militants that lurked in the shadows behind them.

There is no doubt that he has been a dominant figure in Irish politics. He also has a very mixed legacy, encompassing both support for acts of egregious violence and a path that brought republicanism from violence to democratic means.

Whatever your view, it cannot be denied that Sinn Féin has had a mandate for quite some time as the North’s main nationalist party.

South of the border it’s a little different. The party has been the coming party for a long time now. Since Caoimhghín Ó Caoláín won its first seat in 1997, the party has been on an incremental – but inexorable –growth path.

A lot of it resolves around the so-called national question. Ask any Sinn Féin member in the south what they think of the IRA or the ‘Troubles’ or of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, and the answer will be the same.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.