The Sinn Féin headquarters in Navan, Co Meath, is called The Bobby Sand's Centre, a name which, if nothing else, proves that the party is not just economically illiterate. When the centre opened several years back, I assumed that the Shinners would quickly redo the sign, restore the apostrophe to its proper place, and hope that nobody had noticed that they couldn't be bothered to properly spell the name of one of their great heroes. I pass the centre on the way to work every morning, but it still displays its ignorance proudly. If Bobby Sand's could see it, she would turn in her grave.
The rogue apostrophe is only a small matter in the great scheme of things, but whenever I pass by and look up to see that it's still there, it seems somehow symbolic of Sinn Féin's attitude to politics – of its lack of preparation, its failure to engage with what are often patronisingly called ordinary Irish people, is inability to get even the simple things right. Its last Dáil campaign was a shambles, a textbook example of how not to win seats in a parliamentary democracy. Nobody knew who the leader was; Mary Lou McDonald was thrown at the people of Dublin on the basis that she was a woman who scrubbed up well; Gerry Adams was paraded around the place like the Sam Maguire Cup in September, full of good cheer and symbolism but, at the end of the day, still a dull object that has lost its sheen.
The first time I realised Adams was basically ignorant of issues that related to the Republic was during the second Nice referendum campaign in 2002. I had written a column on the Sunday outlining reasons why people might vote no, as they had done when the referendum was first put to them the previous year. I was mightily interested, therefore, when Adams came to Dublin on the Monday for a press conference to announce Sinn Féin's opposition to Nice and read out phrases from my column, word for word. There was no spontaneity about him, no obvious familiarity with the subject matter, no comfort about being at the centre of a debate that was raging in the country at the time. He was there because he was Gerry Adams, hero of the struggle, not because he had anything compelling or original to say.
Sinn Féin used him in much the same way during the last election campaign and found, to its horror, that Adams' ignorance of the Irish economy was badly exposed, particularly in a tv debate with the leaders of the smaller parties. The party tanked. It had expected to win several seats but ended up with one less. Surely now it would reorganise, run the party on professional lines, get all its ducks in a row and its apostrophes in place.
Instead, it's déjà vu all over again. After years of no doubt heated debate internally, Sinn Féin decided that its secret weapon in the forthcoming election is to be, er, Gerry Adams, who will run for election in Louth, a constituency whose name he has yet to learn to pronounce properly. (He calls it Lout, as in "I represent Lout", which cynics might say is true in the plural.) He should win a seat, but will he be any good?
Which brings us to WikiLeaks. If there was an annual award for stating the bleedin' obvious, WikiLeaks would win the 2010 gong for revealing that England's Prince Andrew is a bit rude and that Silvio Berlusconi is a lecherous old goat. Despite Adams's denials, the revelation last week that Bertie Ahern thought he and Martin McGuinness knew about the Northern Bank robbery in 2004 also falls neatly into the "tell me something I didn't know already" category.
And yet, the site did provide a great service in bringing the character of Gerry Adams to the forefront of political debate and reminding the people of Louth that, when they come to vote in the general election in the spring, one important question they will have to ask themselves is: "if I vote for Gerry Adams, I'm voting for a liar? Is this really something I want to do?"
Adams is an incorrigible, consistent, can't-help-himself liar. He has lied consistently about being in the IRA. Earlier this year, he lied repeatedly in relation to a controversy involving a family member, which for the moment, for legal reasons, I can't say any more about. He was almost certainly lying when he denied knowing anything about the Northern Bank robbery.
This is understandable up to a point. Given his background and history, Adams has needed to lie, as a cloak, as a camouflage, as a means of survival. Lying is part of what he is. But we're not in Kansas any more, we're in Hackballscross, and Adams has yet to show that he can complete the long journey from terrorist leader, to peacemaker, to local politician and, the way things are going, to leader of the opposition. That involves knowing what he is talking about, but it also means believing what he is saying and making the voters believe him too. His performance last week suggests he is a long way from closing that particular deal.
Happy Christmas in the all-too-real winter wonderland
My favourite Christmas ad hasn't been on the television very much this year, for understandable reasons. It's the one for Guinness which shows the date on a watch ticking over into Christmas Day and then displays Ireland – North and South – looking beautiful in the snow. The music, specially written for Guinness by composer Kevin Sargent, helps in creating an impossibly Christmassy mood. It's an ad that makes you glad to be alive, and in Ireland with family and friends, at this time of the year.
As the ad finishes, a voiceover announces that "even in the home of the black stuff they dream of a white one", a message designed to tap into the romantic attachment we all have to a white Christmas. Or that we used to have, at least. After the weather of the past few weeks, those words seem like a provocation rather than an aspiration, which is possibly why the ad doesn't seem to have been on as much this year.
Anyway, whatever the reason, and wherever you are, and whatever the conditions, have a happy Christmas and as good a 2011 as is possible in the circumstances.
I asked myself the question, 'Is this what I want?' and I thought to myself 'Yes, this is what I want'.
I suspect thousands of others will answer the same way come polling day.