Posted by Niall O'Dowd at 7/24/2009 2:25 PM EDT

Should Gerry Adams Step Down?

Mick Fealty, publisher of ‘Slugger O’Toole, an excellent blog forum on Northern Ireland affairs, and Fionnula O’Connor a respected columnist with the Irish Times have both remarked this week that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has lost effectiveness.

Fealty goes so far as to say that Adams should resign from the leadership that at 61 his race is run and it is time for Sinn Fein to bring in anew generation of leaders.

Fealty writes “…. now might be a good time for Adams to call it a day, or at the very least announce he would like his post as president to become contestable. It could open the field to younger candidates perhaps more energetic and politically fluent with the southern polity, and signal the party's determination to follow a path of genuine restructuring and renewal.”

O’Connor points out that there have been many defections from the party in the south in recent weeks and that dissatisfaction with the Northern leadership is clear.

She points to the Adams visit to America recently to whip up support for a United Ireland as symptom of the problem.

“ Gerry Adams takes off abroad again, like a latter-day John Hume, but without the one-time network of powerful friends. The appeal to the Diaspora to crusade for unification may have more to do with finding a role for the displaced Adams than real expectations of enthusing recession-crushed Irish-America about a united Ireland.”

I think they are both wrong. Adams needs to stay for the future of Sinn Fein and the peace process. Right now there is a determined challenge from a hardline republican group to the peace process. Adams is needed, as always, to steady the grassroots and show the way forward.

There is no better strategic thinker either. I would disagree strongly with O’Connor that the Adams American trip was a waste. John Hume never did mass meetings, he had the same Washington coterie of powerful friends but he never touched the soul of Irish America the way that Adams has.

During his visit he reconnected Sinn Fein with Irish Americans, as witnessed by the large crowds he drew and created a new agenda for both sides

This week alone the California Democratic Party, largest in the nation, called for a united Ireland. A drop in the pond perhaps, but watch that ripple grow with legislatures from coast to coast.

It is no idle challenge Sinn Fein faces. Eirigi, which means ‘Uprising” has major spokesmen such as Brendan Mac Cionnaith head of the Garvaghy Road residents who fought a winning battle against Orange marchers in Portadown in the Drumcree crisis. He has been directly critical of Sinn Fein in recent weeks.

There are others in the south, including one of the resigned councilors who is said to associate with Eirigi.

Eirigi is a curious mix of hardliners who woke up too late and found the landscape utterly changed by the peace process and a fair few Utopian dreamers who continue to plug their paramilitary driven socialist all Ireland agenda although the tide has gone out many years ago.

The fact is that with Eirigi and others like them around the peace deal is not yet cemented; the last nails have not been hammered in the coffin of the bad old days.

You only have to go back to this month’s marching season incidents to see how fraught it can become so quickly. The Sinn Fein leadership has navigated through far harder shoals than this but you never know what could cause the seams to start ripping apart. This is no time for Adams to go.