Not the old bogey of Sinn Fein again!

 The politics of  it are all too familiar.  Peter Robinson raises the bogey of Sinn Fein to get the vote out and try to prevent SF becoming the largest party in the Assembly.  

“Sinn Féin will be in government, I’ve no doubt about that whatsoever. But there’s no point to be in government just to be the mudguard of some conservative party, we want to be the vanguard… We’re in government in the north and let me be quite assertive about this, we will be in government in this jurisdiction also”.

South of the border, the new poll topper for Louth and friends can afford to sit on their hands and wait on events.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has said that the likely Fine Gael/Labour coalition ‘will not deliver change’

There must be at least an evens chance that the Republic’s voters will quickly become disenchanted with the new government, whatever they do.  If that were to lead to its collapse before the term ends, there’d be plenty of jackals waiting to bounce on the corpse. No doubt this is what Robinson has in mind, the worst case scenario for the government about to be formed in Dublin. Yet again, a unionist electoral pitch is based on fear. SF too have a vested interest in fear south of the border.

 But these can only be tactical positions. Surely the right strategic approach is not to exaggerate SF’s importance.  In a few year’s  time, would any left- populist successor  led perhaps by a  Labour party that walked out of government fare any better?  Or a revived Fianna Fail / Sinn Fein “ republican” coalition plus odds and sods?

Less speculatively, a basic question is: while it will always attract historic revulsion from many of its opponents at least until the old warriors depart, does Sinn Fein deserve its bogey reputation any more?  Responsibility in government is a temporising force, as they’d doubtless discover in the Republic too.   Both the DUP and SF are now political schizophrenics.  They must make radical populist noises to bolster their communal identities but to get anywhere in government they have to compromise. .  SF in coalitions on both sides of the border would not change that reality. And anyway,  there’s probably a better than evens chance that they’ll fail.

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  • Ceist

    Sinn Fein have 27 MLA’s aand the DUP have 36 MLA’s

    Can anyone point to ten seats that SF are realistically be expected to gain?

  • Sean Og

    If SF gain 5 and DUP lose 5 you end up with SF as the largest party.

    Still not very likely.

  • backstage

    In ‘mature’ (normal) societies political power lies in capturing the centre ground. In NI this has been skewed – political progress has had to be made through the coalition of extremists. But one can’t help feel that even the extremists feel the need to at least court the centre even though this becomes more difficult at election time. To keep the bandwagon rolling, we need an official opposition at Stormont. Not only to challenge policy and practice but also to move the arguments into a more policy-based context, thus building the centre ground.

  • This kind of politics sickens me. Still, Peter Robinson has raised an issue, which is this.

    What he is really saying, in so many words, is that Sinn Fein wil take more votes away from the SDLP as a result of the momentum built up by their success in the ROI General Election. As a result of that, they increase the likelihood of being the largest party at Stormont with Martin McGuinness as First Minister.

    There are assumptions built into that statement which ought to be challenged. Perhaps the SDLP commenters will have more to say on that subject.

    Historically, we never saw a surge in ROI political success for Sinn Fein when they were taking large chunks of the SDLP vote a few years ago. Why should there be any bandwagon effect?

    The DUP, meanwhile, are back to their old tribal gambit to squeeze the UUP. I dont care whether or not the DUP gains from the UUP in seats but I hope that those voters thinking of chosing between one or other of those parties will ignore that nonsense.

  • Drumlins Rock

    The bogey had been dealt with, but Peter chose to release it again at St Andrews, just so he can play this game, I hope no one fall for his cheap stunt.

  • Ceist

    Sean Og – you’re absolutely right – poorly worded on my behalf

    I can’t see any chance of SF overtaking DUP and it seems to be a happy gambit designed to secure both the DUP and SF’s positions (I suppose in some bizarre way it may be welcomed as cross community cooperation).

  • ItwasSammyMcNally

    drumlins rock,

    The UUP and the TUV will seek to damage the DUP becuase they agreed to change the rules regarding First Minister. Are you suggesting they wont – as the UUP is unlikley not to use one of the few weapons at its disposal for what may be a difficult election.

    There are 4 or 5 seats that may be gains for SF in the Stormo election after next simply from demographics, this time out they may gain 2 and lose 1. The only chance SF had of topping the poll this time is/was a strong display from the TUV – this now looks unlikely.

    ps I’m not convinced that the UUP does not have anOrange Lodge/Parades issue up their sleeve to attack the DUP with.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    “Ceist” is quite right. The scope for Sinn Féin to actually gain a seat is very limited. They can confidently expect to regain Gerry McHughs seat in Fermanagh-South Tyrone but will likely lose Lagan Valley and I think that it will be almost impossible to retain the fifth seat in West Belfast….its difficult in any circumstances without Gerry Adams.
    The destination of that final seat could be anyones.
    Sinn Féin also have a little local difficulty in that their governance (Water, Education etc) and I think the balance between Sinn Féin and SDLP will be adjusted by the Electorate.
    As I undestand it ..18 is the magic figure……which brings two Executive seats…and the current 5:1 split in nationalist/republican seat distribution does not reflect voting strength.
    The SDLP are clearly worried about North Antrim and there are other marginals. But optimistic over West Tyrone. And other more positive marginals such as Strangford and East Antrim.
    But in order for SF to take the First Ministers chair without DUP losing seats. A loss in Strangford for example is almost inevitable and TUV might pick up more than the expected one seat……but where exactly will they lose votes……hardly to the UUP or even their new best friends ever in Alliance (themselves possibly in the running for picking up UUP seats).
    I cant see any hastily arranged “socialist” party cobbled together by the usual suspects and a manifesto written on a packet of 20 Bensons and Hedges having a serious impact.
    So the balance of probability suggests that (qualification obviously that this is not a detailed analysis) there wont be a SF First Minister.
    But I throw in the proviso that the Assembly seems accepted on the unionist side of the house and more “loved” on the nationalist side……and Im tempted to think that there will be a noticable difference in turnout in constituencies.

  • The Word

    “does Sinn Fein deserve its bogey reputation any more?”

    There is a sense that Sinn Fein have been normalised by, funny enough, their expansion into the South. This reduces their scope for pulling chaotic strokes, North and South.

    But there’s a lot of corruption there including another story in the press today of financial irregularities dealt with by CAB in the South. That corruption threatens the state as much as a Gombeen revolution led by Sinn Fein. There can’t be too many TDs, journalists or commentators who don’t feel that presence in their streets.

    On the contrary it has led to the emboldenment of many journalists, who feel that their position is more sound than the politicians, and therefore a state that is trying to do the right thing while loking over their shoulder at these martyrs for a pint and a story..

  • Big Boss

    The unionists are as predicted playing straight into SF hands, and low and behold…isnt this election in May starting to shape up like another sectarian head-count?….. instead of who will be first minister, its back to the same old story of smash SF….do they not have the wit to realise that the more they do this the more SF will gain votes from equally stupid nationalists who will also buy into the counter-argument of “we can be the biggest party” it is a quite sad to see actually.

    On the subject of the SF bounce, and PR fears over SF getting more seats, can anyone here tell me what seats SF expect to gain,

    Iv actually taken time to look at this through ark, and the likely hood is that the SDLP will gain 3 seats while losing one.

    They will lose North Antrim (but that wont be a gain for SF)…they “may” lose South Antrim but i suspect they will cling on (this also wouldn’t be a gain for SF)

    They will gain in West Tyrone, i dont think anyone will deny that. They should gain a seat in Strangford (missed out by 32 votes last time) and a seat in East Antrim (considering they hold i think 2 or 3 council seats in the area and SF do not) Because of boundary changes in South Down they could also gain a 3rd seat there, and judging on results in the WM election, and the bad press Murphy has been getting, I wouldn’t rule out a chance of a 2nd seat in Newry Armagh.

    so for all PR fears of SF taking over…or indeed boasts by less informed “republicans” the SDLP could end up with 18/19 seats come May and two ministers, and instead securing the nationalist vote, it could be blown wide open once again.

  • Politico68

    Interesting analysis above but I don’t think people see that their is perfect storm forming in Sinn Feins benifit.

    In the North the TUV could take three seats from the DUP in the assembly election. It is also quite possible that some SDLP voters might cross to Sinn Fein due to the whole FST debacle during the westie election. It’s hard to say if the UUP will make any gains because they depend so much on the older Unionist Demographic to bolster their vote. That cohort is one which is declining rapidly. I think we might see the DUP and SF come very close to par in terms of seats.

  • Big Boss

    There could be indeed some SDLP slip towards SF, but they have no seats that would be in danger if that happens.

    Infact the only seat that could be in danger for the SDLP would be from Eamon McCann in Foyle….(that would also be danger for SF as well)

    and while SF have an outside chance of maybe 2 seats in upper bann, they will lose their seat in Lagan Valley…..and maybe a seat in West Belfast (depending on how good unionist unity is, or indeed if the unity candidate fails, where will all their transfers go (enough could see the stoops sneak a second there, but thats unlikely, if impossible to happen)…

    On a good day….the SDLP could gain what i said in my other post above, while SF could lose 1/2 seats…25 seats….SDLP 18/19….. What a battle that could lead to over the next 5 years,

    Not to mention if the AV is passed, the SDLP could also put up a big challenge there (with the help of the unionist community)

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Big Boss analysis roughly conforms with my own earlier one. He makes a very valid point about Emaonn McCann in Derry. The situation in West Belfast …as I understand it…the SDLP still has only one candidate,Alex Attwood nominated..
    Some analysts lean to the view that the Westminster 2010 numbers suggest that there should only be one candidate. I took the view then and (more so) now that they should run two. Worst case scenario is that Attwood wont lose.
    And I think the atmosphere has changed. The dominant figure of Gerry Adams has left the scene and been replaced by a back to the future candidate in Pat Sheehan.
    There is also the fact that Alex Attwood has credibility as a Minister.
    An….at this point in time (it may change) there are two unionists in the field.
    Brian Heading would appear to me to have a reasonable chance (I put it no higher) especially as Paul Butler did not get nominated in West Belfast when his Lagan Valley base was lost. Presumably Jenny McCann will be allocated the upper Twinbrook/Dunmurry area.

    I suspect SDLP wont declare its West Belfast hand until much closer to nomination day. But its odd they have one candidate in West Belfast (16% in 2010) and two in North Belfast (if I recall 12% of vote)

  • Zig70

    IMO people are missing the point.
    Sabre rattle away, it’s the best way to get the voters out. It actually seems to be the only thing they give a hoot about. It’s why UU are dead because they are now toothless in the sabre rattling stakes. For me the problem is that there is no party that is bi-cultural to show an alternate path. We need two or three bi-cultural parties, left, right and centre.

  • Big Boss

    The local council situation in West Belfast for the SDLP is something to watch out for, with 2 “dissident” candidates running in the lower falls area, i think the SDLP could regain a seat there, but i agree they should be running two, especially if they could get their message of transfers across the sectarian divide in the area.

    I respect the SF machine to be able to once again deliver the 5 candidates, but i think with Gerry gone, this is as good a time as any to slip in a 2nd SDLP seat, in face maybe now or never.

    The point you make about running two in north but not west, perhaps the SDLP are putting to much thought into the “topping the poll”…. While Attwood finish up on top in WB would be a great publicity boost, its a pointless win, gaining 2 seats is even better.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The North Belfast situation might be related to promoting Pat Convery with a view to Alban Magennis stepping down next time. But I actually rate Nichola Mallon in Oldpark very highly.
    it might simply be a matter of maximising the vote and/or a recognition that Fred Cobain is in trouble and a second SDLP person needs to be in the race to keep former tax man Billy Webb of the Alliance at bay. Webb would do better on transfers with only one SDLP person in race.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Big Boss,
    Incidently the council elections EVERYWHERE are something to look out for especially in marginal Assembly seats. And especially important for the SDLP to be fully involved in every DEA in Strangford and East Antrim. Traditionally Alliance pick up “easy” seats here…..but the SDLP will have an easier task persuading voters to go for Joe Boyle and Justin McCamphill if they are not voting for Alliance candidates for local councils.
    Im surprised that the SDLP seem reluctant to accept this analysis. Pass it on….if you know any of them 😉

  • Big Boss


    It would be a good idea to do that, but perhaps theyu cant find anyone willing to do that,

    or they believe the lure of finally having nationalist representation will be enough to bring the voters out

  • JoeBryce

    I have said this before, I’ll say it again. An SF First Minister will be a thoroughly good thing for everyone throughout these islands. The world will not come to an end. I hated the idea of the SNP in power here in Scotland and now I think I may very well vote for them next time round: they have been competent and solid.

    IMHO, the posts of FM and DFM should be rotated between the blocs, every 4 years. And that should be so, whether NI (Six Counties, the North, etc etc) remains in the UK, becomes a devolved region in a Second Republic, or we all negotiate some different type of arrangement.

    And another thing. What is happening now in Dublin is important for the future of everyone throughout the whole of Ireland. People need to work out mechanisms for getting representation in the Dail from all the communities on the island, although obviously it needs to be done carefully, sensitively and tactfully so that none of the horses get frightened.

  • JoeBryce

    Oh, and one last thing: it would also be good for everyone throughout the islands if SF took their seats at Westminster. And used them for the benefit of all their constituents.

  • The Word

    “People need to work out mechanisms for getting representation in the Dail from all the communities on the island, although obviously it needs to be done carefully, sensitively and tactfully so that none of the horses get frightened.”

    What about a Dail election? Would that suffice?

    SF – “competent and solid” like SNP?

    How about out of their depth?

  • JoeBryce

    Well, no party has dealt competently with the financial disaster that has engulfed us all, in Scotland, Ireland, England, America, Europe…It’s been a total horlicks everywhere. And most of the SF Ministers (with the exception of Ruaine) have won reasonable plaudits as being just as competent as anyone else.

    As for the SNP, they really have been a pleasant surprise, at least to one like me who expected nothing of them.

  • Brian Walker

    All the expertise above shows that traditional politics remain paramount and that even 13 years after the GFA, policy counts for little at the crunch time of elections.

    I missed out on how the debate on going into opposition took hold. I sympathise with stagedoor but I can’t see the attraction for voters if the UUs and SDLP opted out of the Executive in an unreformed Assembly. Right now,they are perfectly able to devise new policies and stake out agreements both inside the Executive and in the Assembly. In government they might be in a position to put pressure in favour or even implement some of them. The trouble is, they’ve failed to create anything like a centre ground.but have done ok in the departments they hold.. Why should they do any better in opposition? In the normal political spectrum the UUs are sort of centre right and the SDLP sort of centre-centre, both roughly reflecting their support.
    It might be different in a reformed Assembly – but who’s talking about that outside the academy? And why should the DUP and SF allow it?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Im not so sure whats so bad about “traditional politics”. There seems ample choice.
    UUP are “traditional” unionists.
    DUP are very “traditional” unionists.
    Alliance are “traditional” “oh my God, I cant believe I was brought up to believe that but now Im sophisticated”
    SDLP are “traditional” social democrats, Irish nationalists and republicans and moderate.
    SF are “traditional” “any way that works” republicans.

    Even if you add in the TUV, dissident republicans and the dissident liberal “none of the above” elite…thats ample choice. And absolutely no restriction on people going off and forming a new Party……or several.
    Unless of course all of the above Parties are declared illegal and we start from scratch. Seems to me very unlikely that some or possibly all of the above ideas will survive unchanged for a century. Stuff happens.
    Time even caught up with Fianna Fáil.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Why is everybody making a deal of Sinn Fein’s gains in the south? Its not as if its some seismic shift. Even even their hadnt been the biggest crisis in generations, Sinn Fein’s gains would not have reflected anything massive. In these times, their gains were just about acceptable.

    Think about. The governing parties lose 27% of their vote. Fine Gael and Labour pick up 17% of that and of the remaining 10%, Sinn Fein only attracted 3%. Over twice as many thought it would be a better use of their vote to support a toothless independent.

    These next Stormont elections will tell us alot about the state of NI Politics. Sure 13 years have passed since the GFA and many will lament the fact that policy based electioneering has yet to take hold but to be fair, this is the first election when policy based electioneering is possible. We have a full term (just about) of an assembly and these guys have a record now that they have to stand over and I think that whatever gains the DUP/SF can make out of the “first minister” issue will be more than cancelled out by voter’s apathy towards them due to their poor performance.

    I think alot has changed. Nolan listeners and the like now talk of the “folks on the hill” getting their act together on normal issues. The SDLP in particular should be making an issue of this on the doorsteps. There is alot to be made of the laughable performances of Conor Murphy and Catriona Ruane and even Michelle Gildernew to lesser extent (EU fines etc). It may not get people to vote for the SDLP but it will make people see through the “we’re for the working class” charade that will be sounded by the Sinners

  • Munsterview

    ” South of the border, the new poll topper for Louth and friends can afford to sit on their hands and wait on events.”

    No they bloody welll cannot or will not !

    One SF, TD down here is taking a weeks break, which means emergency constituency work only and then it is down to not ‘business as usual’ but to ramp things up and prepare for the next election.

  • dwatch

    ” South of the border, the new poll topper for Louth and friends can afford to sit on their hands and wait on events.”

    Wait for what? FG & Lab will be in government to the next election or the one after, and if they fail to deal with the huge financial, employment, emigration problems etc etc, or the electorate just gets bored with them, FF will be voted back in again.

    SF’s biggest problem in the south is that they are trying to compete with three other much larger republican parties.