Another birthday for Sinn Féin’s Most Glorious Leader and Perpetual President

For sheer longevity, Gerry Adams is among the dearest of global Dear Leaders


Gerry Adams has two birthdays: an official and a provisional one. Just like Queen Elizabeth.

His official milestone is celebrated every October; and the provisional wing of Gerry’s birthday falls in April. The first marks the day he entered this world and the second marks the date of his accession to the leadership of Sinn Féin.

This allowed happy members of SF to bellow a lusty round of Happy Birthday to him at their ardfheis in Mayo this weekend. They sang it in Irish.

Martin McGuinness led the chorus of good wishes.

Gerry was celebrating a significant anniversary this time – it was a roundy number.

He has been reigning at the top of Sinn Féin for 30 years now. The Perpetual President has reached his Pearl Jubilee.

That’s some achievement for a party boss in the precarious world of politics – not just in Ireland but globally. In terms of longevity, he is among the dearest of the Dear Leaders.

Down through the decades, the heaving ranks of the deposed, the departed and the chronically insecure in Ireland’s other political parties must have cast envious glances in his direction and wondered: How does he do it?

Then again, perhaps not. Perhaps they all knew the answer.

On Saturday night, as Adams strolled on to the platform to deliver his keynote speech, a large swathe of his adoring audience wouldn’t even have been born when their commander was crowned.

No matter. He is a totemic figure within the party. The analysts and observers who pronounce that the Sinn Féin leader is a politician past his sell- by-date and out of touch with the modern ways of a voter- schmoozing party might have had second thoughts had they witnessed the undiminished allure of Adams to the enthusiastic crowd in Castlebar.

This was an slick, tightly run ardfheis – carefully stage-managed, upbeat and attractive with all the glossy stagecraft of today’s party conferences. There was a huge emphasis on the use of social media and a clear effort being made to showcase the youthful energy of its newer members.

Perpetual Leader
And yet, central to it all was Adams, the Perpetual Leader. Together

with veterans Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly, he provided the steady gravitational force around which everything else revolved.

They were just there, a compelling presence, proving the anchor for all the activity.

Without them, one suspected, the Sinn Féin ardfheis would have been just as jaded as all the other conferences from all the other parties. Without them it would have been just another exercise in political marketing. With them, it’s still about the Struggle, except this time its fought with the ballot box in one hand and a focus group in the other.

Things are very busy now. There are big anniversaries on the horizon and they have to be commemorated. The 1916 centenary is coming up, along with other dates on the revolutionary calendar.

Sinn Féin’s youngest Oireachtas member, Senator Kathryn Reilly from Cavan, was chosen to do the warm-up address before Gerry’s speech.

She took the opportunity to put out an appeal for new members, reading out the numbers people should text if they wished to join the party.

“She is an inspiration to us all” said the MC.

The atmosphere in the auditorium of the Royal Theatre in Castlebar – right on the Taoiseach’s doorstep, a fact deliciously savoured by the delegates – was buzzing in advance of the Perpetual Leader’s performance.

The stage was immaculately set, with Gerry’s podium front and centre and two curved tables set back on either side of him. Martina Anderson, a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, sat to his right and Dublin Central TD Mary Lou McDonald sat to his left. The seating was carefully arranged – man, woman, man, woman. The men wore grey suits, the women looked like advertisements for a high-vis jacket manufacturer.

Upstyle hairdo
Martina wore fluorescent orange; and Mary Lou was a riot of crimson satin. Her “upstyle” hairdo was much commented upon by delegates. Older members would have called it a bun.

Whatever the style, Mary Lou looked very glamorous. Better still, she could have concealed a naggin of vodka and a small chicken in her bun in case she needed sustenance later in the evening.

The small platform party – the men included McGuinness and Kelly – sat up straight in their gender and colour-coded formation, every one of them with their hands clasped together and resting on the table.

The crowd of more than 2,000 faithful were asked to switch off their mobile phones before the keynote address. But Martin McGuinness was having none of that. How would people be able to tweet?

So everyone was told to switch to silent mode and the twittering carried on. Even though his hands were glued to the table, McGuinness could be seen tapping away with his free fingers during the speech.

It was a routine ardfheis speech from provisional birthday boy Gerry, pushing the right buttons for the troops but with little new to offer.

There was a lovely swipe at the Taoiseach and his tiresome catchphrase about Ireland being the best small country in the world in which to do business. “Despite all the election rhetoric from Labour and Fine Gael – Yes, Enda! – this is still the best small country in the world for big bankers, crooked developers and corrupt politicians” Adams said to cheers.

His “Sinn Féin will put manners on the elites and the fat cats” declaration was particularly well received, although he didn’t say how, exactly. Which left some of us wondering.

At the end, instead of the buck-leppin from politicians trying to elbow themselves into the television frame, a woman emerged with a red guitar and she sang the national anthem. Everyone stood and faced the tricolour and Starry plough. There was no EU flag on the platform,

It had been a great success, everyone agreed, hitting the social media sites to tell the world.

And the shop did a roaring trade, while raising the usual media tut-tutting over the “sniper at work” badges and assorted Provo-themed memorabilia. But it kept the home crowd happy.

Thirty glorious years for the Perpetual Leader. Sure why would he want to give it up?