'Many in middle class vote Sinn Féin'
Sinn Féin is stereotyped as just having one type of supporter, says TD Pearse Doherty
SINN FÉIN finance spokesman Pearse Doherty predicts that middle-class Fine Gael voters will migrate to Sinn Féin at the next general election.
“There’s no doubt that many people within the middle class vote Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin can get very much stereotyped into one corner, that the party only supports those that are on social welfare or those in social housing,” he said.
“But that’s not where Sinn Féin stands. Yes, we make no apologies for protecting the most vulnerable in society but Sinn Féin needs this country to be prosperous. We need entrepreneurs and business leaders to be adventurous and to be successful.”
Council elections in two years’ time will provide a “huge opportunity” for the party to counteract this “pigeonholing” of Sinn Féin, he said.
Mr Doherty said that even though the Government parties had a large majority, they would find it very difficult to get re-elected at the next general election “because of the medicine they’re going to dish out”.
He predicted that “without a doubt” disaffected Labour supporters would vote for Sinn Féin at the next national poll.
“I wouldn’t even stop at Labour. There are people that would’ve supported Fine Gael in the last election that I believe will support Sinn Féin,” he said.
Mr Doherty said the party’s leader of almost three decades Gerry Adams would never be pushed out of his position but would know when to stand down.
The Donegal TD would then consider standing for the leadership if activists believed he deserved the role.
Asked if he thought it was normal for a political party to have the same leader for 29 years, Mr Doherty conceded it “mightn’t be the norm” when compared to other parties but argued that during a period when “armed Republicanism could actually decide to leave the stage permanently” Mr Adams’ presence at the helm provided much-needed stability, and he continued to do a “good job”.
“When he decides that the time is up I don’t think that there’ll be any push on him. He knows himself when he will feel he should stand down. When that happens then I think the party will very maturely decide who will be his replacement,” he said.
“Thankfully Gerry isn’t indicating that he’s going anywhere soon, and I think that’s to be welcomed in the party right across the board, but we all know the leadership will change some time in the future.
“I genuinely have no personal ambition at this point to lead Sinn Féin, but things may change. It will be down to whether the party believe that they want me to stand for that position. Then it’s something that I will consider.”
Aged just 34, time is on Mr Doherty’s side. If a vacancy arose now, he insists he would not seek the office. Would he back the party’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who declared recently she would consider a bid for the leadership when Mr Adams retired?
“I think Mary Lou would make a fine party president. I don’t think the issue is going to arise. I think that there are other people within the party also that would make a fine leader of the party,” he said.
Leadership battles usually happen when parties are not doing well, Mr Doherty said, and opinion polls state consistently that Sinn Féin’s support is growing.
Mr Doherty won the Donegal South West byelection in November 2010, having initiated the High Court challenge that forced the previous Government to hold the long-delayed contest. He topped the poll in the general election just three months later.
There was no talking about politics around the kitchen table at home when he was growing up. His mother came from a Fine Gael background and his father, who died suddenly last month, canvassed for Pat “the Cope” Gallagher of Fianna Fáil.
His parents “weren’t too happy” when they heard their then 14-year-old son had been spotted on camera talking to Martin McGuinness while Gerry Adams did a television interview at a Bloody Sunday march in Derry.
Having told them he was going to his job in a butcher shop in Gweedore, Co Donegal, that weekend, Mr Doherty had hitched across the Border to the event. “But they calmed down.”
Mr Doherty occupies what was once the late Independent TD Tony Gregory’s office in Leinster House. A torn “No to Nice” sticker remains on the window.
Sinn Féin is at the forefront of the No side in the upcoming fiscal treaty. Asked about former Fianna Fáil deputy leader Éamon Ó Cuív’s stance on the referendum, Mr Doherty said he believed Mr Ó Cuív would launch a leadership challenge against Micheál Martin in the coming weeks.
“I would suspect that Éamon Ó Cuív is hoping that the austerity treaty will be rejected and that will give him a chance to launch a challenge against Micheál Martin,” he said.
He described life in the Dáil as “surreal”, like living in a “wee bubble” or a “twilight zone”.
Pictures of his three sons, aged six, five and 1½, are on the office wall. Another baby is due within weeks.
“My biggest fear is that I will regret in future that I spent so much time away from my family and from my kids. They’re getting of the age now that they’re realising that you’re away more often.”