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Sunday 1 March 2015


They talk of youth, but old men still lead Sinn Fein

After a lifetime of calling the shots, Adams and McGuinness won't make way for the young

Old stagers: Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness will dominate yet another Ard Fheis. Photo: Tony Gavin

The Sinn Fein rank-and-file get their chance to change their party at next weekend's Ard Fheis. If theirs was a genuinely democratic party rather than a cult, they'd be challenging the old men who've held the party in an iron grip for decades.

I'll admit, if they weren't who they are, I might be pleased to see Gerry Adams (66) and Martin McGuinness (64) raising the banner against ageism. Adams and I are British pensioners and McGuinness (64) is about to join us, but the three of us are still hard at work and have no intention of giving up. Adams will be crowned President of Sinn Fein for the 32nd time at the Ard Fheis next weekend. And McGuinness ain't going anywhere either.

In a recent RTE interview, asked if he would run for re-election to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016, McGuinness said. "Let us not be ageist about this. I still consider myself fairly young, still consider myself as someone who has a lot to offer."

Me too, Marty and Gerry. Me too. I'll be soldiering on as long as I can - hanging on your every word.

Having pointed out that Hillary Clinton (67) may run for the US presidency, McGuinness added: "The British Queen [89] is much, much older than I am . . . I regard her, even though she is at an elderly stage of her life, as someone who sets a very powerful example to many backwards people".

So McGuinness plans to be at least Deputy First Minister after the assembly elections. From the considered, elder-statesman, presidential tone of his interview, he's obviously also got an eye to running once more for the office Michael D Higgins will be vacating in 2018. These days, he talks wistfully and cross-culturally about his lifelong love of cricket.

Meanwhile, Adams is continuing to push a whimsical, youthful persona, which often suggests he's slipping into second childhood. We've had the teddy bears and the plastic ducks and now we have the naked trampolining and what happens when he gets a Creme Egg in his beard.

He's so anxious to get in with the young that he asks them to be photographed with him. Yep. There was a tweet the other week from a lad called Eoin standing in a shop with a friend - both clean and neat in their school uniforms, with Adams smiling between them. "Great to meet you, thanks for asking to get in a photo with us!" tweeted Eoin to Adams.

You might have thought that wording would have embarrassed Adams. Not a bit of it. He retweeted it! Prepare for a weekend of Ard Fheis selfies with President Narcissus.

Oh, well. We all deal with ageing in our own way.

However, serious matters are afoot with Adams and McGuinness. They're fuming over allegations that Sinn Fein is implementing in Northern Ireland the very austerity they oppose in the Republic and so try to distract their faithful by any means available. McGuinness is outraged that the SDLP continues to criticise the welfare reforms Sinn Fein and the DUP are pushing through: "He then not only failed to sign our petition to block this cruel attack on struggling families, but marched his party through the voting lobby alongside the DUP and TUV to support the bedroom tax," said SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell. McGuinness, as a defender of the status quo, reacted by accusing the SDLP of irresponsibly putting the power-sharing executive at risk.

Adams has much to put up with too. As Niall Collins, Fianna Fail's Justice spokesman, put it: "When it comes to the crunch, I think people see through Sinn Fein's strategy of saying one thing here to exploit people's anger, but doing a very different thing just a few miles north."

Such attacks - coupled with the cheek of Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy in clinging on to the mantle of victimhood ever since his arrest and detention by gardai - are making Sinn Fein desperate. At present, it's describing Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail as Tories and talking up the Sinn Fein relationship with its new far-left best friends, Greece's Syriza, Spain's Podemos and like-minded parties in the European grouping GUE/INGL (the European United Left/Nordic Green Left), including Cyprus.

MEP Martina Anderson (who was released under the Good Friday Agreement after serving 10 years for conspiracy to cause explosions) is doing such good deeds for her allies as calling on Turkey to reveal the truth behind the murder and secret burial of Cypriots during the 1974 invasion. In return, GUE/INGL has agreed to send a fact-finding delegation to Ireland to assess progress in the peace process. Expect some of them at the Ard Fheis.

If Syriza fails to wring many concessions out of the EU, it's very bad news for the European left and Sinn Fein will be back to the drawing board. If it succeeds, the two old stagers at the helm of Sinn Fein could be there for a long time to come.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards