Martin McGuinness is a 62 year old Manchester United fan. Iam a 60 year old Manchester United fan. We probably both watched Manchester United beat Queen’s Park Rangers 3-1 on Match of the Day.
Which brings me to Sinn Féin. Earlier this year four of their big names (all MPs at Westminster) have resigned their Stormont seats and four “new” MLAs have been co-opted. And of course since 2011, Gerry Adams has been a TD in the Republic of Ireland. And in very different circumstances (sadly the illness of Bairbre de Brun) Martina Anderson has been co-opted to Europe.
In less than two years Sinn Féin has lost six big stars.
I always tend to think of Sinn Féin MLAs as three tiers ….a leadership, senior second tier and rank and file.
Taking six big names out of the Assembly Party and replacing them with (since 2011 Election) five co-options seems an abuse of the process……..I actually support cooption. It protects a minority party and electorate in say Foyle, which has five nationalists and one unionist members. But the reason for co-option should be a good one.
Of course, it is interesting why Sinn Féin has weakened their team. Anything to do with lower the profile of leadership contenders such as Conor Murphy and Michelle Gildernew.
Lets be honest……in Sinn Féin terms, Westminster is a black hole. People become invisible. SDLP attends. So notwithstanding any good work they do under the radar in their constituencies…..Mr Murphy, Gildernew, Pat Doherty and Paul Maskey will not be see often on television. And in the case of Ms Gildernew, who has a majority of just four votes..that seems a high risk strategy.
The Sinn Fein leadership at Assembly level is based around Mr McGuinness, John O’Dowd, Caral Ní Chuilín and Michelle O’Neill who are Ministers, Jennifer McCann, a junior minister and rising star and Gerry Kelly the Policing Board representative. I cant see Ms O’Neill and Ms Ní Chuilín as “heavyweights”.
There is a second tier. Francie Molloy is a Deputy Speaker and effectively sidelined from political hurley-burley. Mitchel McLaughlin (67) has been a Sinn Féin nearly man for years. I like him but I cannot see him standing in 2015/16. Alex Maskey is rarely off TV……….all purpose Sinn Féin spokesperson who is handily placed in South Belfast to get into a TV Studio. Caitríona Ruane was deemed a failure as Minister for Education. Selected by Sinn Féin to soften their image, she just seems to be on the wane.
Barry McElduff presents himself as a lovable buffoon. In fairness there is probably more to him than that. But he seems as odd looking in his Tyrone shirt as I do in my Manchester United shirt. Daithí McKay was once seen as the politician to watch but somehow it has not quite worked out. Raymond McCartney is now the lead figure in Derry but retains that hard man image…..interesting in itself how Sinn Féin select in multi-seat constituencies…….a balance between people who are close to the folks in the Felons Club and people who are the “new” acceptable face of Sinn Féin. Sue Ramsey now has a higher profile and again I quite like her.
Fra McCann, Cathal Boylan and Mickey Brady seem little more than lobby fodder with experience. Pat Sheehan co-opted for Gerry Adams is little more than a face to please the “Old Guard”
Which brings us to the 2011 “intake”. Michaela Boyle, Cathal ÓhÓisín, Seán Lynch (the Fermanagh ex-prisoner) and Oliver McMullan have hardly shone but on the other hand Phil Flanagan the acceptable face of Sinn Féin in Fermanagh) is a rising star.
Which brings us to co-options……Maeve McLaughlin, Roaleen McCorley, Declan McAleer, Megan Fearon, Chris Hazzard and Bronwyn McGahan have really had little time to shine and are probably being “played” in.
So the team is weakened. But some caveats. There is plenty of time for newcomers to acclimatise and build a profile before they are due to face the electorate. And in most constituencies if nothing changed, in percentage terms, even a weakened team would mostly survive. But Newry-Armagh, Fermanagh-South Tyrone and West Belfast seats would certainly be vulnerable.