By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — With tense negotiations set to dominate the next two weeks of Northern politics, Sinn Fein leaders are celebrating their party’s success in Republic’s local elections, where they saw a surge in grassroots support, the most striking result in a vote which left the major parties largely untouched.
While the two main parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, have been the main winners in the local elections, Sinn Fein made significant gains from the small base it built up in the last ballot in 1991. Sinn Fein polled strongly in Dublin and Cork and in counties along the border, almost doubling its vote and tripling its number of councilors. That result included a stunning upset over several major-party candidates.
Party leader Gerry Adams said his party was now a significant radical force in local government in the Republic. Sinn Fein now holds 62 local government seats in Ireland.
"It puts us in a very pivotal place, hopefully, to win seats in Leinster House the next time round," Adams said.
Fianna Fail and Fine Gael both increased their council representation, but Fianna Fail was coming back after a disastrous outing eight years ago when it lost 80 seats and Fine Gael failed to make its target of 300 seats.
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The main losers have been the Labor party, which has failed to capitalize on its merger with Democratic Left. Its votes did not translate into extra seats in the local election and it lost votes in all four Euro constituencies.
The Progressive Democrat vote dropped in the local elections but the party avoided the electoral meltdown that some had predicted. It lost its representation on Dublin and Limerick Corporations but polled well in Galway.
Sinn Fein’s involvement in the peace process and its community activism in deprived housing estates — particularly against drug pushers — apparently paid off in the local polls.
In New York, Friends of Sinn Fein representative Larry Downes said the results illustrated what the party supporters had been saying all along: "It confirms that if people show support, Sinn Fein will do well in the democratic process and will continue to do so."
The success had not been predicted by opinion polls. Sinn Fein had been expected to suffer because of the continuing failure to find the secret graves of the so-called disappeared. For the last two weeks, gardai have been digging at six sites in the east of the Republic for the remains of eight IRA murder victims from the 1970s and 1980s.
In Leitrim, Sinn Fein scored its most stunning upset by defeating Sen. Pascal Mooney, whose family had held that seat since the foundation of the Irish State in 1921. In Sligo, the party also managed to secure three seats on the corporation and, for the first time since the 1960s, a seat on the Sligo County Council.
In Dublin city, the party increased its representation on the corporation from one councilor to four, taking over 7.5 percent of the vote. High-profile republican Dessie Ellis took more than 22 percent of the vote for Sinn Fein in Dublin’s Finglas area.
Ellis was sentenced to eight years by the Special Criminal Court in the 1980s. He was later extradited to Britain on bombing charges after going on hunger strike but was acquitted and deported back to Ireland.
In Kerry, Martin Ferris, who was sentenced to 10 years for gun running in the 1980s, topped the poll. In Monaghan, the power base of Sinn Fein’s only TD, Caoimhin O Caolain, the party took six of the 20 seats, with one candidate getting 42 percent of the vote in his area.
Sinn Fein also have representatives on councils in South Dublin, Cavan, Louth, Meath and Sligo. In the Euro election, its four candidates got 88,369 first-preference votes among them in the four constituencies.
June 16-22, 1999