Mary Lou McDonald looks like the likely choice to replace Gerry Adams as head of Sinn Fein (Photo: PA)

A fascinating article by Harry McGee in Saturday’s Irish Times outlines the scenarios for the future after the era of the Gerry Adams/Martin McGuinness leadership for Sinn Fein passes.

The two have been giants in the Republican movement and indeed in Irish history and will be seen as such in historical terms.

However, they are both in their sixties and the inevitable question of succession raises its head.
Adams, McGee says, will stay to 2016 at least, for the centenary of the Rising by which time he will be 68. McGuinness, two years younger is likely to think about retirement at the same time.

McGee says the wish within Sinn Fein is for a Republic of Ireland leader next time around.

It is easy to see why. The chances of Sinn Fein being in government in both parts of the island are very real. The eclipse of Fianna Fail and the dreadful poll numbers of the Labor Party give Sinn Fein a massive future to look forward to.

McGee says Mary Lou McDonald, 44,the eloquent Dublin-based member of the Dail is the frontrunner, with Pearse Doherty of Donegal the other contender. If, for some reason, they decided to stick with a Northern leader John O’Dowd or Conor Murphy, ministers in the assembly but neither well known in the south, would be the obvious leaders.

I know and have met Mary Lou McDonald frequently and she is an astute, clever woman and very acceptable to middle class voters in an election.

I do not know Pearse Doherty but observers have admired his knowledge of financial issues, no easy
matter for Sinn Fein, and his clear growth as a politician from angry young man to considered leader.

Sinn Fein will be looking to attract middle class voters next time around (likely in 2016) and McDonald would be the obvious candidate if that were the key priority.

Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail may have enough votes between them to form the next government, a stunning thought, also considering that Sinn Fein have a shot at being the majority party of the two.

It is hard to see Sinn Fein in any other combination in power such as with Fine Gael but they will be deeply aware of the pitfalls of being a minority party in power.

The political oblivion of the Progressive Democrats, Green Party and now the fortunes of the fading Labor Party make clear it is a path to self-destruction.

McDonald would certainly seem to have the upper hand if it comes down to winning over the middle class voters, especially in Dublin, where she represents a constituency.

The fact is  she could some day emulate Margaret Thatcher as the first female leader of her country.

A long shot maybe but I wouldn’t bet against it.