The stinging attack on Gerry Adams, made recently by a well-connected columnist in the Andersonstown News, is significant but should nevertheless be kept in perspective. The West Belfast newspaper has been unfailingly supportive of the Sinn Fein leader and his party in the past, going so far some have suggested as actually assisting with Mr Adams’ strategy. On many occasions, for example, the paper has appeared to have acted as a Trojan horse for that leadership, introducing and thereafter drumming up support for issues that were initially too sensitive for the cautious party president to launch himself.
The article by ‘Squinter’ was a breathtaking departure from the norm. The paper has previously carried criticism of the republican leadership but it has either been from dissenting outsiders or was in the nature of a measured critique that usually gave support to a certain faction during periods of internal wrangling. On this occasion though, the attack on Gerry Adams was personal, blunt and scathing. The columnist accused the Sinn Fein leader of neglecting his constituency and refusing to accept responsibility for the parlous state of the area’s economy and an alarming absence of security for its residents.
So potentially damaging was the criticism that Adams took the unusual step of defending himself while delivering a graveside oration for murdered former IRA prisoner Frank ‘Bap’ McGreevy. The late Mr. McGreevy was a well-known and popular former prisoner but not of the rank that would normally have Sinn Fein’s president delivering valedictory funeral words.
It is still too early to say whether the writer was acting on his own behalf or if this is the beginning of a rift between the Andersonstown News group and the current Sinn Fein leadership. Clearly the former would be of much less consequence than the latter. If Squinter’s broadside is all his own unaided work he shall be dismissed, as have other critics, without too much ado. If on the other hand, this heralds something deeper, we could very well be seeing the Sinn Fein leadership losing what middle class support it has enjoyed until now.
Losing these middle-class supporters (if that is what is happening) would hurt Sinn Fein’s leadership in Belfast. These people are articulate and capable with ability to craft an argument and deliver a message. No political party would willing dispense with such backing and Sinn Fein would surely feel the pinch in their absence. What will not happen should this cohort of people withdraw help though, is an implosion of the republican party in either Belfast or further afield. The middle-class intellectuals have substantial clout but this is far from being crucial outside of a leadership struggle and anything of that nature is certainly not yet apparent.
What should worry the Sinn Fein party and its president more than disgruntled middle class people in Andersonstown is the nature and substance of the accusations levelled against Gerry Adams personally and by extension his party.
Sinn Fein’s president played an enormous part in bringing the IRA campaign to a halt and with it an end to the bloodshed and misery that was a constant feature of the North for the previous quarter century. For that reason alone, many in the republican/nationalist community are grateful to him and to his leadership. The enactment of the Good Friday Agreement, moreover, has put definitive closure on any prospect of a Protestant state for a Protestant people and for that too, many northern nationalists applaud Gerry Adams.
What the Adams leadership has patently failed to deliver on, however, has been in the arena of socioeconomic improvements for working class nationalists. This is particularly obvious in those areas of high deprivation that were so often the bedrock of Provo support and equally as often, the target of British Army and Loyalist assault. There is too an undercurrent of unease in many republican strongholds accelerated by a feeling that some activists and supporters emerged from the struggle better off than others.
Many of the personal criticisms being voiced are unavoidable in any society while others are unfounded. Nevertheless, the harsh economic conditions prevailing in many working class districts prevent the inhabitants finding a comfort zone that would soften the disappointments they encounter.
Sinn Fein, moreover, is struggling to provide any form of a coherent response to these very visible problems. Committed, as the party is through its position in the Stormont Assembly, to attracting Direct Foreign Investment (from the US in particular) Sinn Fein is unable to commit itself to an overtly socialist or even social democratic policy. Even before the Southern general election, the party was flapping around trying to find an economic policy that would meet the needs of deprived working class communities while simultaneously appearing business friendly.
Their dilemma has not eased since nor is it likely to if the current depressed global economic climate continues. It would be a strange turn of fate indeed if the long-term prospects for Sinn Fein were to be impaired by lack of proper action on jobs, housing and incompetent policing. These are of course the very issues that proved to be the undoing of the old Unionist Party and caused the chain of events that eventually propelled Gerry Adams and his colleagues into the position they now occupy.
Read more from Tommy McKearney at Fourthwrite.