Sinn Fein’s Constitutional Breakthrough

Tonight The Pensive Quill carries an article on the recent election by former blanketman, Alec McCrory

Sinn Fein’s Constitutional Breakthrough
Alec McCrory

Sinn Fein is set to become a major player in the 31st Dail. Speaking after his election after topping the poll and exceeding the quota in Louth, Gerry Adams exuded a strong air of confidence as he declared Sinn Fein’s national project back on course. The party faithful whooped and hollered as the results poured in, outstripping all their expectations, and rightly so. Sinn Fein has finally cracked it and is now ready to present its citizen-based left of centre brand of politics to the nation. A complete turn around for a party which not so long ago appeared to be struggling south of the border.

At the last elections the wheels on Sinn Fein’s political wagon seemed to have ground to a halt, posing serious questions about its future. The failure of Mary Lou McDonald to win the Dublin seat in 2007 was seen as a major set back for the party. However, four years ago few could have predicted the economic disaster that would befall the state and how this would impact the political landscape. Forced to go back to the drawing board, Sinn Fein, as always, came up with a few clever tricks to try and turn the situation around.

The first sign of the fight back came with the election of Pearse Doherty in Donegal southwest, hailed as a resounding victory and a positive signal that more was to come. Suddenly, the party had a spring back in its step while Doherty himself was the subject of much positive reporting; the new face of Sinn Fein, confident, well presented and, most importantly, lacking the IRA baggage of many of his colleagues.

However, the master stroke was still to come: the unexpected and unforeseen appearance of the “Big Effort” in the frontier town of El Paso, home to hundreds of IRA outlaws over the years. The genius of this is move is now evident in Adams’ poll topping performance in the Fianna Fail stronghold that was Louth. Confounding his detractors, the man with the Midas touch trounced all comers exceeding the quota by 1000 plus. Even Arthur Morgan, the former SF representative for the area, expressed his surprise at the outcome.

As election fever intensified and the contest drew closer, Adams was harried by the southern press over his “alleged” involvement with the IRA. He was challenged at every opportunity regarding his now famous claim never to have been a member of that organisation. The established parties were at pains to put this northern blow in over a barrel hoping to arouse the people’s righteous indignation. His unqualified victory would suggest they shot themselves in the foot by pursuing that line of attack. Gerry Adams always performs best when he is painted as the underdog.

Sinn Fein is on the cusp of something big. Many commentators believe that Fainna Fail’s credibility is so damaged that Adams, or the clever option, Pearse Doherty, could head up the opposition in the new Dail. Linking up with a handful of the left of centre independents would almost guarantee them the dominant oppositional voice.

With 13 or 14 seats now to its name the party will have full speaking rights in the chamber, as well as, being able to table and debate motions and receive government funding for research and staffing. No doubt they are bursting at the seams to get stuck in! The Sinn Fein train has well and truly left the station on a course for increasing political representation north and south: but to what end?

With the assembly and local elections in the north looming the party will have little time to savour the moment. Now having the double advantage of its success in the south coupled with the significant election date -- May 5th being Bobby’s anniversary -- the conditions could not be more favourable from Sinn Fein’s point of view. The party will hit the streets running brimming with the confidence of old.

Recent years has saw the steady flow of republicans leaving the mainstream totally disillusioned by the political direction of Sinn Fein. Whether or not some of these people can be persuaded to return to the “republican family” will be put to the test. There is no doubting everyone loves a winner and that will be the message going out on the doorsteps. With several independent republican candidates standing across the six counties, the contest promises to be an interesting one; the duel between David and Goliath comes to mind. I know where my vote will not be going.


  1. Alec,

    a good piece. I think it is foolish to downplay the SF success in this election. Had they not messed up in 2007 they would be able to lead the opposition in the new Dail. In the overall shceme of things their victory does not amount to much because it does not alter the balance of forces. That would only happen if Labour could be compelled to stay in opposition and seriously contribute to posing a real challenge to Fine Gael and the economics that they espouse. Labour bigger than FF in opposition would open up the possibility of a Labour-SF coalition next time round. Be in no doubt that FF will come back and the possibility exists that we will see FF and SF in coalition in the 32nd Dail.

  2. Yeah an interesting post,but I,m inclined to take the opposite view Anthony, I dont think we should read to much into this result, in the cut and thrust of "normal "politics had psf gained these seats yes I would concede that it was a major breakthrough,something on the power of the 86 elections I think.however with the situation that the republic finds itself in and the palpable anger among the people,it was obvious that FF and the Greens were going to take the brunt of the peoples anger,this was a golen opportunity for a party like psf and I believe they should have made a better effor in completly decimating FF, and that may be a result that they will come to regret ,as Alec stated FF will be back,they can go into the wilderness regroup and let FG and Labour deal with this mess and watch from the sidelines as the coalition goverment implements the cuts or most of them,and earning the anger that the people showed them,but even with the rearranging of the deckchairs in the Dail with the exception of a few capable people I for one dont believe psf will have the wherewithall to exploit this golden opportunity in political terms that is.

  3. I think it is fair to say that Sinn Fein's performance exceeded all our expectations. In particular, Adams topping the poll in Louth was a major personal and political victory. But you are right there is a much bigger story in the statistical analysis which we have yet to see. One example is the fact that Sinn Fein's share of the first preference votes is up only 3% on 2007. It will be interesting to see what else the figures show.

    On the bigger stage, it is clear that the majority favours a center left to right axis over a left of center position as represented by SF. There was some talk that FG would attempt to make up a miniority government with the support of some of the independents but that didnt last long. As you rightly point out in your post having Labour on the opposition benches would pose a major threat. Much better to have them in government as the minor partner.

    Like you, I do not beleive we have seen the end of the great FF party/movement. The pundits are saying they will be out of office for two terms at least, but the party will rally under Martin's leadership in due course.

    As much as it is a political party, Fainna Fail is a tradition whith deep roots in Irish history and political culture.

  4. Marty,

    there is no doubt that the Greens and FF were facing a backlash. However, that didn't mean SF had to benefit from it. Nor does it allow its achivement to be underestimated.

    Doing more damage to FF than was done was a next to an impossible task. The only way for SF to challenge FF was to come at them from the right. But FG had that angle well cornered. The story of this election is that in the midst of a major recession the electorate went right rather than left, yet SF picked up a large disaffected vote using left rhetoric. We know under Adams it will abandon the disaffected to get into power with FF.

    Whether or not it can hold its current position is another matter. If it stays with the Left rhetoric it probably won't. If it cosies up to FF and moves right it could, particularly if the public want an alternative to FG-Lab

    FF are not going to be strong enough next election to take it without coalition. They have never been since the early 1980s I think. The most likely partner is SF. And SF will jump at the opportunity.

  5. Alec,

    FF have a big machine on the ground in a way that SF don't. That will give it a major advantage. SF are poor on the ground but could take roots now. The culture of FF runs very deep and memories are short. 4 years of an austere coalition will make the sitting government unpopular. Martin will prove a formidable leader. My view is that the rebellion against FF will be short lived.

  6. There is no point in trying to understate what they have achieved, however how much of this will actually translate into real change for the people once the euphoria dies down?
    How many times did we the Republican voters in the North witness Adam's triumphs.
    There is absolutely no doubt the Master can talk the talk (well except on matters relating to the economy)
    It seems to be when he is expected to translate the words into actions, walk the walk so to speak that things become problematic.

  7. I personally believe SF will do little or nothing to change the situation in the south. Ultimately, Adams will have to side down in favour of a Pearse Doherty or Mary Lou as the party's project becomes more centered in the twenty-six counties When Gerry talked about the "big picture" it was always with south in mind.

    When the left veneer is strip away what we see in SF is an insatiable appetite for power. The party does not have an ideological framework and makes no bones about being prepared to shift it's position to suit whatever circumstances it finds itself in. Pragmatism or Populism, call it what you will.

    What I describe as it's citzen based left of centre politics is suitable to the current situation, howerver, that will change, as sure as night follows day, as conditions change.

  8. Yes, Fionnula. We know our Gerry only too well.

  9. Alec-

    That by-election in donegal was not given to the people- Pearse
    Doherty had to win that right in
    court first- every one else did what they were told

    Clint Adams came to louth shooting
    the truth from the hip and stayed
    shouting for joy when the people

    I call a non republican spade a spade and it sounds like you will vote for a partition party- don't
    let the truth embarrass you- this comes to all who oppose Sinn Fein.

  10. michaelhenry
    dont throw away yer tablets just yet, this is nothing more than an anger vote. FF decimated still outgunned wont get any better than this. The staters cant stand you nordy's.

  11. It is interesting to see that practically all commentators here speak in terms of what this electoral success means for SF. It is very much the same mode of thinking as that of British political commentators on BBC, ITN etc when they comment on British politics: it is always "what does this latest development mean for Tony Blair/Gordon Brown/Daviid Cameron/ Labour/Conservatives, but never "what does this development actually means for the ordinary people on the ground?" The truth is, no matter this success or even SF being part of a ruling coalition in the future, that will not change anything for the people. There is no real difference between SF and other political parties in the Republic. They are all in politics for themselves and their own pockets and ambitions, not for the people. And THAT's what we should be thinking about. I despise lies and hypocrisy of these so-called "left" who abandon their deprived community and jump the ship to where the grass is greener. Not to mention self-styled "political refugees" from FF who only left FF because there was no chance there for them to get up the ladder as quick as they did in SF. This isn't sport and betting on which team will win, this is about people's lives and future of the country. Irish politics today is a very sad picture, with no real alternatives.

  12. While we all may not agree on exactly what this election result means,or interpret the results in opposite directions,I agree with Glumdalclitch, I think we would nearly all agree the psf are like the dog chasing the car in pursuit of power,and like that dog what will they do if they ever did manage to catch their objective.nothing much I reckon.

  13. Michaelhenry, you would be advised to keep your power dry. SF is still a long way off from the sizing political power in the south. For me what those 14 seats really amount to is a tightening of the constitutional noose around the neck of SF.

    The party likes to promote the myth that with serious representation north and south of the border the party could move more quickly towards achieving its objective of a United Ireland. The quicker this is debunked the better, in my humble opinion. Sinn Fein will be no more successful in this than were FF or FG who both promised the same.

  14. Alec-

    Shite talk does not work

    You told us that you know where your vote will not be going- but you are to afraid to tell us who you will vote for- its not some low partition party, is it

    Like the wind which can caress our skin- we are that free

    A long war a long peace- we lost friend's in the war but only dissidents are gone from us in peace

    You are bunching Sinn Fein with the
    im fine a gael and failure fail-
    thats your partitionist nature- you keep it

  15. Michaelhenry,

    Theres nothing more partitionist than sitting in Stormont implementing cuts forced by a British government

  16. Ruairi-

    Hope you are not talking about the
    All Ireland 32 county election

    Latest from the s.d.l.p

    Electoral registration forms are
    available in many foreign languages including polish and- eh-

    It's beyond a joke now all we have against us are the dissidents and the stoops

    I hear there's an x m.p from the
    70s who will run for the assembly against Sinn Fein- a hardliner now
    we all fell laughing when we heard this

  17. michaelhenry,
    would you like to enlightnen us all to who the x.m.p is?
    It could not be ex-police as he joined Sinn Fein , so we assume it is an ex-provo. Who are you speaking about?

  18. Michaelhenry,

    What election did SF win? the DUP is the largest party in the north with FG the largest in the south..

    I dont know were your getting 'winners' from.

  19. michaelhenry,
    hate to interrupt the laughter or hysteria which ever? However I'm sure people are really interested to find out who you are laughing at?
    I assume it is the proposed candidate for the Council elections that has made you lot fall over.
    Could not be the assembly candidate, I think they would throw you out for laughing at Sydney Walsh.

  20. michaelhenery,

    it is clear from the responses to your comment who is talking shite.

    Who I vote for is really none of your business, however, you can rest assured I will not be voting for a party that administers British rule in any part of Ireland. You may feel comfortable doing that but as a republican i could never.

  21. It is interesting that so much weight is being put on Adams topping the poll because this ignores the fact that FG polled 10% higher than SF but because they had two candidates the beard was the poll topper while in reality he came second in votes to FG.

  22. When PSF started to stand for election using the much worn tag of SF, they did so as a tactic and it was sold to go hand in hand with armed struggle.McGuinness consistently said that that the ballot box in itself would not achieve a united Ireland. I believe the good result for PSF, who in themselves alone, do not represent the interests of the people of no property, is nevertheless a progressive step in the general scheme of Wolfe Tone's agenda.

    I believe if Irish Republicans contribute in the way that Bobby Sand referred to, I.e whatever level they are capable of across the class spectrum of writing, agitating, educating, organizing and physically defending the interests of the Irish working class when under attack, in a unified way, we will achieve the United Socialist Republic that Bobby Sands and his comrades died for.

    I believe everyone who pursues the principles of traditional Irish republicans, rather than the personalities should really work for the most united front possible in the evolving revolution of the Irish people that is about to take on new dimensions with the impending crisis of capitalism on the Island. We need to be a united as possible, respecting each others differences to build a broad front. I believe as a first towards this that each group, party, etc, be asked to forward reps to a committee to explore and implement the ideas and concepts of Gene Sharpe as applied in Tunisia, Egypt and the Mddle-East.

    Someone needs to take the initiative on this of the respected stature of Bernadette McAliskey or Jim McAllister and that it be as inclusive as possible. These invitations in my humble opinion should include parties like PSF, RSF, IRSP, etc., putting personalities to one side and pursuing as peaceful a revolution for all of the Irish people pursuing the Gene Sharpe ideas of revolution. I personally am not aligned at this time with any particular party because from what I can see everyone and almost all groups have something to offer, its just telling our ego's to get down for the love of Ireland and its people of no property. The only ones laughing and winning at Irish division are the Brits.

  23. Fionnuala-

    Maybe i should not have brought it up- it was just somthing which i was told- i would rather let that person make it public her-self
    and i did say her

    unless she see's sense then its towards the assembly time
    thats politics- nice in public but not to pretty or bonny in private