Anthony McIntrye, writing just after the Republic’s election, argues that partition was the key to Sinn Fein’s poor performance in last month’s election. Not least in the sheer unfamiliarity with the political economy of the south of the party leader:
…he more resembled a luminary of the 1850s American Know Nothing Movement than a serious modern European political leader. His awareness of the issues in the Republic has improved little since attention was first drawn to this handicap by Paul Bew and Henry Patterson two decades ago. His is an intellectual embodiment of the success of partition rather than its failure. His knowledge of the island is restricted to its northern territory.
He then reprises a long term aspect of his own analysis, the party simply got the timing wrong. Footdragging in Northern Ireland possibly brought them an extra Ministerial seat, but according to McIntyre it cost them political viability in the Republic:
It will be very difficult to endow the peace process with the appeal it currently lacks to make it a serious electoral asset in the Republic. Sinn Fein failed to weave the threads between North and South at the appropriate juncture. Now it is left to sport a green shirt in the North but is naked in the South, where its dangly bits are dangerously exposed to anyone fancying a kick at them. By the time of the next election, who in the Republic will be even faintly interested in the North and its incessant demand for attention? Blair will have gone in Britain so access to No 10 will be rare. Ahern intends to step out of politics within the next four years. The US without prompting from Dublin and London will have other fish to fry. The media will plough different furrows.
Although it may not simply have been about timing, there were also, as Harold MacMillan once famously said, ‘Events, dear boy, events.’
Long before the emergence of the Ahern-Kenny squeeze phenomenon astute observers like Harry McGee and Noel Whelan were calling time on the march of Sinn Fein. They sensed that something else was at play. The seeming end of Sinn Fein as a serious electoral force in the Republic was the cumulative effect of its associates’ alleged involvement in the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney.