Gerry Adams resigned his seat from the British House of Commons on 26 January 2011, and in accordance with the rules and customs of Westminster was granted the position of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead in order to facilitate this. This was wrongly reported as a barony by David Cameron; a baron is a member of the British nobility, while a steward and bailiff is more akin to a groundskeeper. Adams is no longer the bailiff, as the position was granted in April to Labour MP Peter Soulsby.
In any case, a point made on Twitter by mgconnor (of iCampaigned) was that Michelle Gildernew, should she be interested in standing for the Irish presidency, as is speculated, would similarly be expected to resign her seat. It was easy for Adams, as it was a near certainty both that he would succeed Arthur Morgan in Louth (he topped the poll) and that Sinn Féin would win the Belfast West bye-election (Paul Maskey won with 70%).
Neither would be true in the case of Gildernew, who is quite unlikely to win, while she won the Fermanagh–South Tyrone seat for Sinn Féin in 2010 by only 4 votes. Will anyone ask whether she should resign as Adams did, or would she respond that it’s equivalent to Gay Mitchell continuing as an MEP while standing? While that could be fair, it won’t always be as easy for Sinn Féin to transfer representatives across the border as between West Belfast and Louth.
A more pressing issue is how any Sinn Féin candidate would be nominated. With 14 TDs and 3 Senators, they are three short of the 20 Oireachtas members which would nominate a candidate. They could appeal to certain members of Fianna Fáil, particularly as they are not running a candidate, and that there are Fianna Fáil senators who owe their seats to Sinn Féin voters. I’m not sure what the relations are now between their former party colleague, Independent TD Thomas Pringle, but he would be a possibility.
Even at the 10% Sinn Féin achieved at the general election in February, it would be 10% more than Fianna Fáil will receive in this election. Add to that Socialist and People Before Profit voters who would be glad of a left-wing anti-bailout candidate, and they would probably reach around 15% at a first reasonable estimate.
In elections since 1997, we have had the unusual feature of seeing posters for someone not standing in the election in any constituency, as Gerry Adams appeared on leader posters. This year, though he is contesting the election in Louth, I haven’t seen any of these posters. Perhaps I’ve just missed them.
But beyond that, I really don’t understand the Sinn Féin decision to run Adams in Louth. He came off badly in the Mini Leaders’ Debate in 2007, when Michael McDowell brought him down in a kamikaze mission, and doesn’t seem to have improved greatly in his knowledge of politics outside of Northern Ireland:
Maybe he just felt left out, as Martin McGuinness was getting all the attention as Deputy First Minister. And he probably wants to be in the Dáil in 2016. But perhaps it is now time for him to retire from politics, having brought his party into the Northern Executive. I would not expect Sinn Féin to take advice from me, but I think they may wonder how wise they were to arrange this. He is considered to have less integrity than McGuinness because of his continued denial of his IRA membership, even though it was leaked and widely known that in 2005 that Adams, McGuinness and Martin Ferris had resigned from the IRA Army Council. He will be parliamentary party leader, but over five years, he could be displaced in the public eye by younger bloods like Pearse Doherty or Eoin Ó Broin, a candidate in Dublin Mid-West. Both these men are surely ambitious for a greater role within their party, and will feel the prominence of Adams an obstacle for them.
Adams may come to regret all the fuss necessitated by his resignation as MP for West Belfast when he assumed the role of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.
Not a Baron though. I’d have thought David Cameron would understand the peerage better than to have made that mistake in Prime Minister’s Questions. It’s not that easy to become part of the nobility. Adams’s title is much closer to that of groundskeeper.
We tend to instinctually think that it is the right and honourable thing for a Minister to do to resign if there has been a hint of wrongdoing. It’s frequently said of Irish Ministers that they don’t take fall on their sword and take that ultimate responsibility, often for faults that are later forgotten. People wonder why it is that we don’t have this in our culture; after all, Peter Mandelson does it all the time.
Sometimes, though, it isn’t the best thing to do. In the case of Peter Robinson, after hearing that had left some of his wife’s financial dealings undisclosed and only revealed them now that he was being investigated by Spotlight and Panorama, many people felt that his position was untenable. Then, we wondered if it would be worth it, given the instability that exists already in the process of devolution. Given that there is at least some professional relationship and understanding between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, this would be set back if a new DUP leader were to succeed him. This new leader would not as strong a figure within Unionism as Mr Robinson. And he would have to be put to a vote of the Assembly, jointly with Martin McGuinness, which could not be secured at this impasse.
Then consider the human element of the story. Iris Robinson’s affair and the financial impropriety that followed cannot be laid at the hands of her husband. When he found out about it, she was in a state of mental distress and suicidal.
Under these circumstances it should really be enough that he did everything mostly right. As I said elsewhere, I would not like to think that I’d have acted much differently in a similar situation.
Also, given the increasing suspicion that Gerry Adams concealed knowledge of his brother’s paedophilic abuse, the Robinson affair has been put in some perspective.
The six-week break from his duties, with Arlene Foster now as Acting First Minister (progress as some small level to have a woman in the office), he can allow the investigation to continue. The report may find minor misdemeanours, but nothing to warrant his resignation. He might be subject to censure by the Assembly, but nothing more. This will bring us up to 22 February, with the Westminster election expected in May. Hopefully enough time to put this behind, and allow the DUP and UUP/Conservatives to focus on minimizing the impact of Jim Allister and the Traditional Unionist Voice, which does not really have the manpower to launch a serious attack on a unified DUP.