“Republicans had expected to do better because the conditions were so favourable”

Liam Clarke in the BelTel today with his views on Sinn Fein’s performance in #Aras11 (Liam says 6, and maybe 7 out of 10):

It was less than they expected, but it left a solid base on which to build in every constituency. Their share of the first preference vote was 13.7%, compared to 9.9% in the recent general election which was, itself, an all-time high.

Sinn Fein’s internal target during the contest was 20% and on the afternoon of the count Mary Lou McDonald, a Sinn Fein TD, predicted 14-18%. Republicans had expected to do better because the conditions were so favourable.

It’s hard to judge from a northern point of view what these results actually mean within a political market that’s very different to that of Northern Ireland. Impossible, for instance, to conceive of a party of government in the Republic taking a five week leave of absence from the Taoiseach’s office and rival parties sitting on their hands and keeping quiet.

I think Clarke is being a tad too generous when the party clearly missed its publicly stated target (gotta be a 4 maybe 5 on that criteria alone). It’s worth looking back at Anthony McIntyre’s (highly accurate IMHO) assessment of Sinn Fein’s progress in this year’s General Election:

Since then (2007) Sinn Fein has made a remarkable recovery. Its fortunes are linked to the implosion of Fianna Fail. Its electoral success earlier this year came in the wake of Fianna Fail’s disastrous management of the economy. Votes that could otherwise be expected to go the way of the Soldiers of Destiny instead landed in the laps of the Soldiers of Decommissioning.

The opportunity to make further gains has been gifted to the party because Fianna Fail, having botched the Gay Byrne option, then pulled up short in the warm up to the race for the presidency. Fianna Fail left dangerously exposed by its own ineptitude can hardly claim to be taken aback by the appearance of a menacing Sinn Fein U Boat alongside its own rudderless vessel.

At the heel of the hunt, it turned out not to be so menacing after all. Scraping all else to one side, this is a shoring of the base, with a borrowing of votes from previously uncontested constituencies and weak penetration of the independent vote.

And whilst in constituencies (where the telling detail often lies in southern politics) like Donegal South West their incumbent TD will survive; McGuinness came second to Gallagher with 28.4% compared to Doherty’s 33%, the prior appeal to Fianna Fail voters seems to be receding.

Further reading: See Mark McGregor’s follow up to his earlier Slugger analysis here.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty