When Gerry Adams announced that he intends to stand down as Sinn Fein president no effort whatsoever was needed to resist regurgitating Stalin’s terse comment upon learning of the death of Hitler: “that’s the end of the bastard.” It is anything but.
Gerry Adams has devoted copious time and other people’s lives to the advancement of his political career. In today’s world Robert Mugabe readily springs to mind as being comparable in terms of power lust. Adams may be stepping aside but hardly away.
I was somewhat surprised by the imminence of his relinquishing of the presidency, having expected him to state that he would stand aside in 2066, allowing a new leader to assume control in time for the 150th anniversary of the Easter Rising.
In recent months despite signs that the iron fist with which he imposed his authority on the party was starting to rust, there were few indications from him that he intended to go. In August he undertook to lead Sinn Fein into the next election. When last year Eoin O’Broin opined at the McGill Summer School that there would be a new party leader within five years Adams tetchily snapped "he must know something that I don't know."
The likelihood is that Gerry Adams intended hanging on for as long as he could. However, the culture of bullying which he relied on so much to enforce his writ was increasingly coming under public scrutiny. Those the party were dependent on for expansion in the South were more and more refusing to be bullied. With a disappointing election last time around with the party not coming remotely close to usurping Fianna Fail, something had to give.
But that doesn’t mean the political career of Gerry Adams has run out of road. The symbolism of both he and Martin Ferris declining to stand for re-election to the Dail was clear. The Provisional IRA’s Army Council was at last leaving the electoral stage, allowing the vacuum to be filled by those with no military baggage.
Adams may now be calculating that the party under a different helm - where scandal rooted in the past military career of its leader will rapidly abate - shall open up new opportunities, particularly if the party enters coalition. How Sinn Fein fare in those changed circumstances might reconfigure the political landscape so significantly, draining Sinn Fein of toxicity, that Adams, possibly shed of the stench of secret graves, might well bid for the presidency in 2025. He has denied any interest but like his denials of having been an IRA member, that doesn't merit a rat's ass.
Don't expect Adams to go silently into the night. Do expect a period of reinvention where the image of elder statesman will be cultivated, away from the cut and thrust and mire of daily political life. A writer, poet, after-dinner speaker, international peace maker, human rights luminary, critic of terrorism, robust supporter of the state and its institutions, ad nauseum. All to ensure that from from the Ashes of 1969 arose Phoenix Park.
We have not heard the end of the Great Misleader.
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