Updated: 10/02/18 : 07:05:26
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Mary Lou has ‘miles to go’ on her journey

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

JOHN HEALY coined most of the memorable phrases on Irish political leadership.

Dev handed over to Seán Lemass in 1959 and years later Healy wrote the history of that friendly handover in one sentence.

“Lemass,” wrote Healy, “came ten years too late and was gone ten years too soon.”

Friendly? Yes, but there is a frisson of Missed Opportunities writ large in every strand of the DNA of that succinct summary by Healy.

The Missed Opportunities were both for Lemass and for us.

The question can be asked: Has Mary Lou McDonald come too late to the leadership of Sinn Fein this weekend. 

It need not be answered, for now anyway.

Ship Foundered

It is (only) a theoretical exercise but can you imagine if she had been at the helm of her ship when the Fianna Fáil ship foundered ten years ago.

Gerry Adams has been many good things to Sinn Fein in 35 years of party leadership but his Pudsey Ryan exposition on economics stymied the Shinners march.

That march was onwards and (mostly) upwards since the 1981 hunger strikes.

Arguably, it could and should have been more, much more. Can it happen now?

One councillor in each of the two local electoral districts in Sligo does not suggest a Dail breakthrough.

Look back at Fianna Fáil in 1927...and ANY of their  ‘bad’ years you care to pick. 

Those stats and insights from back then are the real ‘sinews of war’ translated into political permanency.

On the other hand, the Shinners can say look at the ‘Spring Tide’ in the 1992 general election. 

The appeal of the leader (alone) can make a huge difference to the Dáil numbers after an election. That is for a future day. 

Going back, in the inter regnum between the hunger strikes and Gerry Adams becoming leader of Sinn Fein it did not EVER seem on the cards they would take up Dail seats.

It fell to Sligo councillor Seán MacManus to read out the historic 1986 Ard Fheis delegates’ voter verdict. The rest is history.

A former Sligo and Leitrim TD, abstentionist John Joe McGirl, gave VITAL support to that verdict.

Had he plumped to toddle off with for his 1957 abstentionist colleague Ruairi O'Bradaigh the subsequent story would have been 100% different.

The political ouster of O'Bradaigh was often couched with whispers, too, that his ceasefires in the 1970s had led to widespread British intelligence penetration.

But can Republicans, hand on heart, (now) say that their switch to a cellular structure was not penetrated more heavily, more often.

Nothing, though, penetrates the whole Irish consciousness quiet like the heady days of the August 1994 ceasefire.

Albert Reynolds insisted the IRA use the exact word before there would be any handshake by Gerry Adams with him and John Hume in the Dáil grounds.

Confederal Solution

On the politics side the Shinners have long buried O'Bradaigh’s “Éire Nua” concepts, too.

They also flushed his ideas on a confederal solution to Partition down the nearest plughole.

But with what NEW solutions have they been replaced? A unitary state is old hat.

Those are some of the core tasks ahead for Mary Lou McDonald to address.

Her Fianna Fáil background will tell her, only too well, that FF paid little more than lip service to its two big aims as a party.

Translated back into Olde English, those two big Fianna Fáil policies never sustained traction with the public ‘down South’ for key reasons.

The general public saw (only) ‘compulsion’ and ‘coercion,’ on the restorations of the Irish language and on The North.

Seems Simple

Like Robert Frost’s beautiful 1923 poem, Mary Lou has “miles to go” before she can sleep, or rest easy. 

Frost’s deeper big message was that ‘what seems simple is not that simple.’

Mary Lou is a work in progress with “miles to go.” Good luck to her.