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.

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  • Yokel

    I think it’d be a shock if they win any seats, its the possible damage they do to SF down the card in terms letting someone elsein.

    Same on the Unionist side though they don’t seem to have ANY organisation right now.

    What is most critical is issue of if an SF or DUP seat is lost due to rejectionists on the ballot is where they lose it to. Would it just go SDLP/UUP or possibly across to the other bloc enterly. If the latter situation did occur I don’t think voters would be forgiving of rejectionists, even some of those that gave them a vote. Most rejectionist votes are likely to come in constituencies where unionists or nationalists as a whole ar every much in the majority so such a situation could be unlikely to occur on paper.

    A bigger issue, for SF in particular, is perhaps stay at homes.

  • J Kelly

    They have no chance of a seat at all. In Derry they are in tatters the irps imposed Peggy OHara without any consultation and the 32csm is torn between oHara and McCann. Many genuine republicans will not touch any of the two of them. A letter published in last weeks Derry Journal with around 60 names will not have in SF worried at all. Of the 60 signatures I would honestly estimate that not 5 of them voted for SF in 2005. Not one of them have been a member of the party in the past ten years. The majority of the signatures were of irps and 32 county supporters.. The irps have done the exact same thing in West Tyrone by nominating Paul Gallagher brother of Willie. Enough said. Gerry McGeough got his answer in Galbally and his strident catholic views don’t si too well with many republicans.

    The silent stay at homes are the issue for Sinn Fein and I’m sure they will be canvassed and encouraged to give it chance a few times between now and March.

  • gerry

    Granted there is a seamless electoral machine in west Belfast for Sinn Fein, but elections can produce surprises. People have been encouraged already to sign up to vote. The Andersonstown News and Irish News papers have had election stuff from Sinn Fein already. Isn’t this against the rules? Are they not all supposed to start at the same time? This stuff has huge letters of SF on the front urging people to vote under the guise of get registered. I am surprised that the SDLP have not openly complained about this. IMO this is cheating.

    The problem is the SDLP really do good work in west belfast, but when it comes to elections people don’t vote for them due to the pressure to vote SF from that party.

    I’ve spoken to a lot of people who say they will withhold their vote this time round, it could be there will be more stay at homes than usual. SF have been the brunt of a lot of negative ‘republican’ attention, I’d say this would also have an impact.

  • MÓG

    Gerry McGeogh has the best chance of getting votes. However, SF only have two seats in F&ST so it’s unlikely he’ll get one of them. What he will do is reinforce the other parties to prevent SF getting a third seat.

  • Yokel

    I think it’d be a shock if they win any seats

    I do too, but it’s very difficult to predict how a new political force will perform in changed political circumstances, which is why I ranked them into tiers rather than trying to assess the probability of them winning.

    What makes me think this way is what happened with the UKUP in 1998; there was clearly a strong demographic that the UKUP tapped into – upper middle-class Protestants who were to posh or secular to vote for Paisley but too right-wing to vote for the agreement. No-one saw it coming, though, me included, although with hindsight it was obvious that if McCartney was going to break out anywhere it was going to be in the 5 suburban ring constituencies around Belfast.

    McGeogh and Hyland are clearly more established than any other dissident candidates and Mid Ulster would have been the constituency I picked for a possible breakthrough if I didn’t know anything about candidates. South Derry and East Tyrone have always been pretty ‘hardcore’ places. From there I think it’s a very steep drop into Tier 2.

    its the possible damage they do to SF down the card in terms letting someone elsein.

    As an Alliance voter looking at three marginal seats where we’re in direct competition you don’t need to tell me that. 100 non-transferrable or stay at home votes in Toome and the Markets could be make or break for us.

    J Kelly

    In Derry they are in tatters the irps imposed Peggy OHara without any consultation and the 32csm is torn between oHara and McCann.

    Didn’t realise they were that badly at loggerheads but given the history of fringe Republican politics it doesn’t surprise me. It’s the same story in North Belfast – there really ought to be at least 1500 votes for the taking for them, in a constituency where the quota could well be under 4000 this year, but does anyone really think Paul Little and his mates could pull that sort of vote?

    Granted there is a seamless electoral machine in west Belfast for Sinn Fein, but elections can produce surprises.

    They can indeed but it’s hard to see SF losing one of their four West Belfast seats anyway. Dissidents might jeopardise a fifth seat that is far from a certain prospect anyway, but that’s as far as it goes.

    The SDLP has shed half it’s vote in the constituency since 1998 and the Unionists obviously can’t get more than one seat. The state of the SDLP in West Belfast is so bad that even their one seat can’t be taken for granted (unless there are significant numbers of SF stay at homes). I just don’t see who the dissidents get to run for them here and even then where they get the 4000 votes they need to get a seat.

  • Gerry McGeogh has the best chance of getting votes. However, SF only have two seats in F&ST so it’s unlikely he’ll get one of them

    Agreed. However, the SDLP are barely at one quota in FST these days and Tommy Gallagher is far from safe. If it comes to a real dog fight, Gallagher will do much better in terms of transfers so McGeogh needs to be very close to a first stage quota to have a chance. It’s a tall order. The Unionists have well over three quotas and look safe; with young people born in 1989 now coming on to the register, you have to think the demographic bubble that propelled Sinn Féin in the 1990s is reaching the surface.

  • Yokel

    Where has that UKUP vote in 1998 gone now, did it come otu again or just go back and sit on its rear again?

    Will the new look DUP and their better deal suit? I have to say I think McCartney himself was under threat though your analysis has made me re-consider. And to think these are the garden centre Prods who the government think will push their politicoans to a deal…….

  • gerry

    Sammy how do you envisage the drag playing out.

  • Yokel

    Agreed, the SDLP are getting close to elimination in my old stomping ground of West Belfast. Shocking really.

    Are the UUP running up in West Belfast or not?

  • Where has that UKUP vote in 1998 gone now, did it come otu again or just go back and sit on its rear again?

    I think we’re talking slightly at cross-purposes here, Yokel; the garden-centre Prods (and Taigs) who produced the 81% turnout in the referendum were largely moderates I believe. However, the UKUP voters must have been largely previous UUP voters. From memory, as I can’t find it on Nick Whyte’s site, the 1998 Assembly elections produced a turnout of 69%, higher than the mid-to-high 60s% that turnout maxed out at from the the mid-1980s through to mid-1990s. My view is that the UKUP voters were former UUP voters who disliked the GFA but wouldn’t vote for Paisley because of religious or class reasons.

    These voters largely kept on swinging through to the DUP and an awful lot more followed them; although turnout has fallen considerably since 1998, it seems to have been an across the board thing.

    Sammy how do you envisage the drag playing out.

    The drag?

  • Sorry, meant to say turnout in the 1998 Assembly elections was only slightly higher than had been traditional; it wasn’t anything like the mass turnout in the referendum.

  • Rory

    Campaigning for voter registration before the “off” may be chating in your humble opinion, Gerry, it is not however cheating under electoral law. Indeed if it were I should be bringing Haringey Council before the beak to complain of the incessant intrusive visits I have, usually on a Sunday morning, from council agents seeking to ensure that I am registered.

    I am sure you would not wish to employ the tactics of US southern white supremacists who murdered civil rights workers attempting to register Black voters in Alabama and Mississippi, now would you?

  • Dr H Lecter

    I wouldn’t give dissidents a haope in hell – anywhere in the North. NOt just becasue of the power and lure of the SF election machine – or the lack of anything approaching a coherent or appealing strategy – no, it is rather simple: the quality of the people they are left with.

    And as for McGeough – I do think that his unfashioable priestcraft views will see him damned by the secularism coursing through nationalist areas.

    As an aside, I turned to the Blanket this week expecting to hear his priestcraft dissected, denounced and derided this week following his medai appearances – but it appears there is only praise for the right wing bigot from right-on Mackers and Co.

    Surely they aren’t blinded by dogma?

  • losing the run of yourself

    FFS sake Rory catch a grip

  • claire

    do you have a link to the praise?

  • Yokel

    You asnwered my question, they went largely to the DUP rather than just stayed at home.

  • Yokel

    Sammy

    One other question, PUP debacle aside, it appears Reg is trying to bring the UUP into the unionist centre, is this looking like it may have an impact on Alliance?

  • it appears Reg is trying to bring the UUP into the unionist centre, is this looking like it may have an impact on Alliance?

    Do you mean moving to the ‘Unionist centre’ as in moving closer to the DUP and away from the centre of Northern Ireland politics? If so, then yes, I think it will have a positive impact; I don’t see why anyone who supported Alliance through the past 15 years would defect to the UUP now; on the other hand I do see why people who loaned their votes to Trimble (and the SDLP) would come back to the Alliance fold.

    Obviously, I’m completely biased here, but I’m more optimistic coming into this election than I have been for some time, although some of our seats are on real knife edges. But I’d still rather be David Ford than Reg Empey just at the moment.

  • Yokel

    Yes Sammy you are being biased! Thats alright at least you are honest and not saying what you do as if it was a scientific fact, immune to all argument.

    Interesting that you take the view that Reg is moving to DUP territory, I’ve heard others say he is going to the middle. Personally I have no idea so thought I’d float the idea for an opinion.

  • 2,500 turned up at the sinn fein ard-fheis at the weekend? how many times did you hear or read hacks say that in the last few days, this blog included? but how many bothered to check? evidently very few. the sinn fein ard-fheis was held in the rds concert hall. check their site or ring 01 668 0866 and ask what the capacity of the concert hall is and you will be told or see that it is just 900. so how could 2,500 people get into a hall with seating for only 900? easy, when you have lazy journalists and bloggers who accept unquestioningly everything they are told by the sinn fein spinners whose interest is to inflate the size and imprtance of the sinn fein party and to exaggerate the significance of the weekend’s vote. even easier when this has been going on for many years now. when you think about it, after sinn fein spin their lies and you guys repeat them they really must sit back and snigger at your gullibility!

  • wisedup

    Try checking the capacity of the correct hall, the Industries Hall – 2,500.

  • wisedup
    actually you’re wrong – i did check with the rds and they confirmed that the sf ard-fheis was held in the concert hall, capacity 900 – so go peddle your provo lies elsewhere!

  • Mick

    South Armagh has plenty of people disillusioned with the Adams/McGuinness view of Republicanism as well

    Who? No more so than 2 or 10 years ago. Not a single member of Sinn Féin walked away in South Armagh over the policing issue.

    I don’t know where you are getting your info from because it’s nonsense.

    The election will setlle all this crap.

  • The Ard Fheis is usually held in the concert hall but this year it was held in the main hall.

    The party also hired some of the rooms outside the concert hall so that people could have lunch.

    Feel free to contact any journalist that was there on the day and they will confirm this or else ask the RDS.

    Wiseup in just trolling, as usual!!

  • wiseup

    Photographic evidence

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sinnfeinireland/371746431/

    900 my arse!