It’s tempting to overwrite any profile of Sinn Fein’s spectacular move out of its stronghold areas. There were obvious highlights: Gerry Adams topped the poll in good style in Louth and likewise his two Donegal colleagues, Pearse Doherty and Padraig MacLochlainn.
The party also performed particularly well in Dublin where there had been concerns about the defections of a number of councillors over the last few years.
It’s out in the rest of the country where I think the party may have scored its strategic triumph. Many will dispute the party’s claim to progressive, or leftist values. That’s largely to do with the fact that it is also a nationalist party, not far from the values of many of those who have previously voted Fianna Fail.
This is significant because it comes at a time when Fianna Fail has spectacularly lost the trust of many of those voters. Fianna Fail’s difficulty, party strategists may argue, will be Sinn Fein’s opportunity.
With TDs now in Sligo North Leitrim and Cork East (where there will be no Fianna Fail TDs in the 31st Dail), the party has an opportunity to bed itself down and become part of the local political ecosphere.
That won’t be easy. The 2009 local elections for the party in both places produced mean yields in both places. They currently have no councillors elected for Cork County and only the veteran Sean MacManus in Sligo. Time and no doubt much hard work on the ground will tell whether this is a serious advance, or high tide mark.
Yet the key point is that Sinn Fein’s chippy nationalism can give it a strong appeal to many of those who originally made Fianna Fail their long term home: ie, the small farmer and the rural worker who now see their children heading off for employment in Canada or Australia after a boom from which they saw few direct benefits.
There will be no remarks this time out that Gerry Adams is British, not least because the party has just become a great deal more than Gerry Adams.
Sinn Fein is no longer purely the interest (some might say obsession) of assorted internet anoraks and ‘Nordies’, but a political force that will factor much more highly now in Dail 31 than in any previous legislature. As Mr Adams is often fond of saying, “tus maith, leath na oibre”… no doubt adding to his activists, “tada gan iarracht”…
But the party has a great deal more to do, no doubt when, as one reader emailed, ‘nationalist’ sentiment within the wider electorate could be considered to be in significant decline:
While Sinn Fein’s surge in Dail seats is notable, coupled with Fianna Fail’s decline, the next Dail will represent a severe decline in seats represented by parties that claim the Republican banner. After the 2007 general election, Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein held 81 seats between them, whereas after yesterday they will combine for 30+ seats. Could this be an indication about the relevancy of Republicanism in modern Irish politics or simply the way the math played out and a process that had little to do with the national question?
It’s an interesting question, and one to which Sinn Fein (and Fianna Fail) will no doubt be determined to find an answer over what may be the next rough and traumatic four or five years.