Category: Archive

Analysis: Amid firestorm, Sinn Fein faces major poll test

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Sinn Fein’s political opponents will be keeping a keen eye on Reilly’s returns. While Sinn Fein has effectively sown up the electoral contest with the SDLP in the North, its fortune in the Republic is far from certain.
For the last 10 years the party has made significant electoral gains. In the Republic, it has grown steadily — first returning one TD in 1997, then increasing its Dail representation to five in 2002.
The party has also expanded its vote in council elections and last year returned its first MEP: Mary Lou McDonald in Dublin and Bairbre de Brun in the North.
However the political firestorm of recent months is thought to have dented the party’s chances of further gains. The Northern Bank heist, the discovery of an alleged IRA money-laundering ring and the murder of Robert McCartney have put Sinn Fein firmly on the back foot.
Political observers expect that Reilly’s support will hold but that he will struggle to improve upon the 6,000 votes he received in 2002 when he narrowly missed winning a seat.
It is also likely that he will pick up no more than a handful of transfers from other candidates. Traditionally, Sinn Fein has been deemed “transfer repellent” in many Southern constituencies and the recent allegations will have done Reilly few favors.
The party made a concerted bid to reverse the bad publicity at the weekend with a fiery and disciplined ard fheis in Dublin’s RDS.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams sat beside Robert McCartney’s sisters before standing to address republican delegates. He assured them that he would not rest until the family had won justice. He called on those responsible for the killing to make themselves available to a court of law.
“I am not letting this issue go until those who have sullied the republican cause are made to account for their actions,” he said.
Interestingly, Adams deviated from his prepared speech. Instead of saying that republicans had allegedly been involved in the McCartney murder, he said, “his murder was dreadful because some republicans were involved in it.”
Martin McGuinness had, the previous night, angrily denounced the IRA members involved in the killing.
The gathering was billed as the most difficult of Adams’s political career. While it may not have been as significant as the 1986 ard fheis, which precipitated a split in the movement and the emergence of Republican Sinn Fein, it was certainly an uneasy experience for Adams and McGuinness.
Several motions were proposed calling on the leadership to take a more hard-line approach in negotiations with the DUP, open more transparent communication channels with the party’s grassroots, and rule out involvement in Northern policing until it secures either a United Ireland or a British commitment to leave the Six Counties.
While the policing motions were easily defeated, delegates voted to adopt a more hard-line negotiating style when the party next sits down with unionists and the British government.
The ard fheis also came on the back of two newspaper opinion polls that seemed to indicate that Sinn Fein support was on the wane.
The Irish Times reported last week that approval for Sinn Fein had slipped 2 percentage points down to 9 percent. More worryingly for Adams, however, was the huge slide in his own personal approval rating from 42 percent in January to 30 percent. Last October, it stood at 51 percent.
The Sunday Business Post, meanwhile, published a Red C poll Sunday that found Sinn Fein support to be at 9 percent, a slip of 2 since its previous poll.
Opinion polls are, of course, notoriously inaccurate and the fall in support for the party is well within the 3 percent margin of error.
As the Post pointed out, the 9 percent figure is 2 above what the party received in the last Dail election. Republicans may also take solace from the fact that Sinn Fein’s core support remains solid despite having endured its most torrid period since the dark days of the early 1980s.
However, Sinn Fein cannot get away from the perception that events and voters are turning against them.
While the decision of the McCartney family to attend the ard fheis may have temporarily taken some heat off the party, it seems that the issue will not be going away anytime soon.
The women, meanwhile, were expecting this week to receive an invitation from the Bush administration to attend its St. Patrick’s Day celebrations next week. The family has won widespread political support in Ireland and a meeting with President Bush would bring increased pressure on republicans to deliver the McCartney murderers to the authorities.
Meanwhile, the Irish and British governments have welcomed much of what Sinn Fein had to say at the weekend. However, the bottom line for political progress remains, with both administrations demanding an end to the IRA before full negotiations can take place.
If Adams’s comments on Saturday evening are accurate, this will not be happening within the current maelstrom.
“Our leadership is working to create the conditions where the IRA ceases to exist,” he said. “Do I believe this can be achieved? Yes I do. But I do not believe the IRA can be wished away, or ridiculed or embarrassed, or demonized or repressed out of existence.”

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