Sinn Fein to face electoral drag from alternative Republicans?

It’s hard to gauge just how serious a threat the dissident Republicans pose to Sinn Fein, not least because the party’s capacity to muster support when it needs it most. Even allowing for a bit of tried and tested oldtime chicanery, the estimated 2,500 attendance at Dublin’s RDS was impressive. Yet dissidents also point to the record attendance at the Bloody Sunday parade on the same day, where few Sinn Fein faces were in evidence. Sammy Morse has a break down of just how realistic a chance the breakaways have in damaging Sinn Fein’s performance in the upcoming elections:He has it broken into tiers. At the top is Gerry McGeogh’s Fermanagh base, with Davy Hyland’s Newry based resistance coming in second in the first most likely band. Both are strong but have serious limitations. Not least that in both places Republican roots are not that deep: especially in Armagh, one of the strongest cases of votes supposedly borrowed from the SDLP. Votes that may, or may not, return to that quarter.

Tier 1

Fermanagh/S Tyrone – an prominent candidate in place in Gerry McGeown, a large Republican vote to begin with, and a certain tradition of non-aligned Republicans from Frank Maguire to Dessie McPhilips. However, it has a significantly smaller Republican vote to play with than other constituencies; McGeown will probably need to pull off about a third of previous Sinn Fein voters to win.

Newry and Armagh – whatever the boys in Sevastopol Street might like to think, Hyland has deep roots in Newry Town, having topped the poll there three times in a row. South Armagh has plenty of people disillusioned with the Adams/McGuinness view of Republicanism as well. The weakness of traditional Republicanism in the Armagh half of the constituency, where he has shallow roots anyway, might be Hyland’s achilles heel though. Sinn Fein performed poorly here until the 1994 ceasefire, not usually a sign of deep traditional republican values, and while former INLA hunger-striker John Nixon can usually poll close 10% in Armagh City, this might be more of a personal vote than an anti-Adams one.

Mid Ulster – South Derry and East Tyrone are heartlands of traditional revanchist Republicanism and the resignation of two Assembly members – John Kelly and Geraldine Dougan – in recent years shows how deep the disquiet with the Adams/McGuinness direction goes here. Paul McGlinchey has been mentioned as a possible dissident candidate here and his family name would undoubtedly carry weight with some republicans, especially in South Derry. Places like Pomeroy, Galbally and Coalisland have their share of true believers as well and with an existing SF vote close to 50% this is arguably the best opportunity for the dissidents to win an Assembly seat.

Read the whole lot though, there is some interesting detail in the second tier, not least the situation in West Belfast, where a seamless party machine will have little difficulty selling policing to a community daily harassed by high levels of petty crime.