Party rallies around Gerry Adams but controversies taking their toll

Sinn Féin knows legacy issues will continue to dog party

As always, Sinn Féin rallies around its leader when the past comes back to dog Gerry Adams but there is an awareness that numerous and recurring controversies are halting the party's growth.

The latest controversy surrounds the revelation that Adams had emailed the Garda Commissioner days before the general election providing the names of four people he says were given to him by the family of Brian Stack, a prison officer murdered in 1983.

The Stack family dispute that they gave Adams the information.

The affair was turbo charged by the naming by Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell of two Sinn Féin TDs, Martin Ferris and Dessie Ellis, as having information in connection with the killing.


One Sinn Féin figure yesterday said that, while the death of Stack was clearly a tragedy, he felt Adams and the party had been “double crossed” by the Stack family.

The family came to Adams seeking his help in attempting to find out what happened their father yet Austin Stack, Brian Stack’s son, now calls the Sinn Féin leader a liar.

Familiar air

This is not new territory for Sinn Féin but has a familiar air. Recent years have seen Adams deal with allegations of sexual abuse cover-ups, killings and his own arrest for the murder of Jean McConville on the cusp of local and European elections in 2014.

Sinn Féin figures yesterday said that the fallout from each had the effect of capping its support levels, at least in the short term.

One remarked that controversies centred around the IRA's past surface every six months or so and are used by Sinn Féin's opponents, particularly Fianna Fáil, to attack the party. Sinn Féin leaders also believe that a hostile media drive the attacks against it.

“It is bound to have an effect, but not on the republican base,” said one source.

Some of the core Sinn Féin supporters are understood to have also expressed concern over how the party had left itself exposed by helping the Stack family and the naming of Ferris and Ellis would have “stuck in their craw”.

Despite that, the notion of Adams passing names to the Garda would have upset republican grassroots “10, 12 years ago”, but is now accepted, according to party sources. Adams is trusted.

Political siege

Another effect of being under political siege on the republican base could in fact be to harden the Sinn Féin membership against future political co-operation with parties such as Fianna Fáil.

"Republicans have always known where they stood with Fine Gael," said one source, who added there was traditionally "some" overlap with Fianna Fáil. This included many Sinn Féin supporters voting for Fianna Fáil in 1977 to oust the then Fine Gael-Labour coalition.

Sinn Féin wants to enter government in Dublin in its near future, with Fianna Fáil seen as the most likely partner. Micheál Martin – who has been to the forefront of attacking Sinn Féin in recent years – has already ruled such a prospect out while he is Fianna Fáil leader.

Even so, a Sinn Féin TD said the party grassroots could very well reject any notional coalition with Fianna Fáil, given the hatred and contempt now reserved for Martin.

One theory in circulation was that Martin, while also seeking to promote his own party and keep Sinn Féin at bay, hopes to boost Labour with a future coalition with Brendan Howlin in mind.

On occasions like during the Stack controversy, those outside the party point to Adams himself as the main reason Sinn Féin is not growing as it perhaps should.

Some younger members of the Sinn Féin parliamentary party expect Adams to step down ahead of the next election but opinion is split on whether that will be the panacea to all ills.

Families such as the Stacks, whose loved ones were murdered, will always come to Sinn Féin seeking closure and answers.

“The legacy stuff is still going to be there if Gerry is leader or somebody else is leader,” said another party figure.

As they face another episode relating to the past, the only thing that can be done, is to attempt to refocus on their own agenda.

Until, that is, the next controversy comes calling.