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The next leader of Sinn Féin, from most to least likely

Gerry Adams has led Sinn Féin for over three decades. But who succeeds him?

20/5/2015 Gay Marriage Equality Referendums Source: Leah Farrell/Photocall Ireland

GERRY ADAMS HAS been the leader of Sinn Féin for 32 years and his support among the party faithful shows no signs of wilting.

Unlike other political parties, there are few if any people in Sinn Féin willing to talk either publicly or privately about life after Gerry.

He hasn’t gone away, you know, but he can’t go on forever. The 66-year-old has already committed to leading his party into the next general election but what happens beyond that is anyone’s guess.

There are several names in the mix for the day when he does decide to step down. It’s unlikely a coup will be mounted against the Louth TD who is extremely popular within his party.

But who’s in the running to lead the post-Gerry Sinn Féin? Here’s our ranking of the contenders, from most to least likely…

Mary Lou McDonald

1/5/2014 Sinn Fein Protecting Workers Rights Documents Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

The current deputy leader is far and away the favourite for the top job. A consistently strong performer in the Dáil chamber and one of the few strong female personalities in Irish politics, the former MEP is considered untainted by the Sinn Féin’s troubled past.

Eloquent, outspoken and politically astute, McDonald’s straight-talking style has earned her plaudits among the general public and even appeals to more middle-class voters who usually shun Sinn Féin. Her unquestionable loyalty to Adams hasn’t always gone down well with everyone, but that’s to be expected in a party renowned for its closed ranks.

Chances: The clear favourite. 

Pearse Doherty

27/8/2015 Anti Water Charges Campaigns Source: Sam Boal

As finance spokesperson, Doherty has brought some credibility to Sinn Féin’s much-derided economic policies. He’s a strong performer in the Dáil and the media and has shown a mastery of the finance brief that has allowed him to be among the most credible opponents of the government’s policies.

The Donegal TD has previously said he has no personal desire to lead Sinn Féin, citing his young family and his already busy workload. But if the vacancy arises he is sure to be in the mix.

Chances: A strong contender. 

Martin McGuinness 

6/2/2015 Sinn Fein launched their National Program Source: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

The North’s deputy first minister is one of the strongest and most prominent personalities in Sinn Féin. His presidential bid in 2011 was audacious and controversial given his past associations with the IRA, but he acquitted himself well if not quite living up the pre-vote hype when ballot papers were counted.

That campaign did establish McGuinness’s credentials as a peace-making politician – rather than as a former member of the IRA – among some voters in the Republic. But making him leader would indicate that Sinn Féin is stuck in the past rather than moving into a new era.

Chances: A strong possibility, but not a break from the past. 

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

25/2/2014. Sinn Fein Issues over Gardai Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

The former teacher is one of Sinn Féin’s longest-serving TDs in the Dáil and currently serves as the party whip. The 51-year-old is a strong performer in the house and gives Joan Burton a run for her money on social protection and welfare issues.

He may not command the same media presence as the likes of McDonald or Doherty but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t garner support from party members in any leadership election.

Chances: An outside bet.  

Conor Murphy 

17/5/2012. Sinn Fein launch agenda for Ard Fheis Source: /Photocall Ireland

One of the debates facing Sinn Féin when the leadership question arises is whether they opt for a southern-based politician or one in the North. Given the party’s obvious progress in the Republic over the last four years and the desire to eventually lead a government in the Dáil it seems unlikely that a Northern-based leader would emerge.

But if one does then Murphy, an MLA for Newry and Armagh, would come into contention. The 52-year-old has a long association with the republican movement and was sentenced to five years in prison for IRA membership and possession of explosives in the 1980s. But he was also the first republican to address a Conservative party conference in 2005.

Chances: In the mix if Sinn Féin looks North. 

Michelle Gildernew

REPUBLICANS PEACE PROCESS TALKS Source: Gareth Chaney/Photocall Ireland!

A former minister in the Northern Executive, the 45-year-old lost her Westminster seat in Fermanagh and South Tyrone by the narrowest of margins last May. This was despite her increasing her number of votes and research showing she is popular across the sectarian divide in one of the North’s most polarised constituencies.

She was briefly considered as a possible presidential candidate in 2011 and despite the electoral setback in May, Gildernew is sure to maintain a key role in the Sinn Féin machine in the coming years with, perhaps, a view to running for the leadership some day.

Chances: Unlikely right now, but maybe in the future. 

Eoin Ó Broin

04/05/12 Campaign for the European Stability Fisca Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

The south Dublin councillor is considered to be one of Sinn Féin’s brightest minds and has been spearheading its economic policies for the last few years. He is a strong contender for a seat in Dublin Mid-West at the next election.

His presence in the Dáil would boost Sinn Féin’s quota of telegenic, smart and articulate TDs. Such qualities would mark him out as a future leadership contender in any party and it should be no different in Sinn Féin.

Chances: Maybe not this time around, but one for the future. 

Read: Labour’s next leader, from most to least likely

Read: Fianna Fáil’s next leader, from most to least likely

Read: Fine Gael’s next leader, from most to least likely

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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