Category: Archive

Sinn Fein’s U.S. backers ponder results over coffee

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

As the votes were being counted in Northern Ireland last Friday, the predictions and results were being pored over at a Sinn Fein election breakfast in O’Neill’s bar on Third Avenue.

Sinn Fein supporters and journalists mingled and drank coffee, while listening to the latest updates on the radio over the internet.

Commenting on the day’s events, Sinn Fein representative Rita O’Hare made several predictions as the political map of Northern Ireland changed dramatically.

In the end, five M.P.’s lost their seats, a high number for a region where entrenched opinions often returned the same candidates for years. But as supporters listened intently for the latest results, O’Hare offered some analysis, including the thought that Fermanagh-South Tyrone would remain a Unionist seat — in fact, Sinn Fein won narrowly.

Speaking of the bitter fight for West Tyrone, O’Hare said that Sinn Fein’s latest figures put its Pat Doherty on 37 percent, versus 31 to 32 percent for Ulster Unionist Willie Thompson and Brid Rodgers, SDLP. In the end, the result was slightly higher for Doherty, at 40.8 percent, and Rodgers came third at 28.7 percent.

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"Our vote has gone up all over," O’Hare said, but suggested that Sinn Fein’s reckoning showed candidate Michelle Gildernew losing in Fermanagh-South Tyrone, the constituency of retiring Unionist Ken Maginnis, and also where hunger striker Bobby Sands won in 1981. This result was the last to be called of the 18 Northern Irish Westminster parliamentary seats, and in the end Gildernew prevailed over UUP candidate James Cooper, but by a tiny margin of 53 votes, or 0.1 percent. Cooper immediately launched a legal challenge to the election, demanding a recount, which is still under consideration.

O’Hare addressed the broader issue of the peace process, and how its future depended greatly on the fate of Unionist leader David Trimble, under pressure from within his own party, and from the Rev. Ian Paisley’s DUP.

"We obviously hope that Trimble survives," she said. "He is at least nominally pro-agreement, pro a new dispensation in the North."

But Trimble’s position on IRA arms decommissioning continued to provide Sinn Fein with a headache.

"Trimble has assiduously used decommissioning to hold things back," O’Hare said.

"There’s nothing in the agreement that the IRA have to give up their guns, or that Sinn Fein has to make them. I have absolute confidence that the IRA will put their guns beyond use, as they have said."

The issue of policing Northern Ireland was still a problem for Sinn Fein, O’Hare said, looking toward the issues that will attract most attention in the next five years.

"What we have now is not a new policing service and Sinn Fein is not in favor of it," she said.

O’Hare also spoke about the defeat of the government’s referendum on the Treaty of Nice in the Irish Republic. The treaty, negotiated by the 15 European Union member states, provides for EU expansion and a European-wide defense force. Ireland was the only country whose constitution required that the treaty be adopted by a referendum, and because the populace voted no, the process of implementing the treaty halts across all 15 member states. Sinn Fein, O’Hare said, was against the treaty because it could violate Ireland’s traditional neutrality, "and it will also give Ireland a lesser voice in the EU as a whole."

As for the local election results in Northern Ireland, O’Hare was certain that Sinn Fein would do well. "You will see a much more explicit expression of the nationalist vote." She predicted "a Sinn Fein mayor in Belfast this time round."

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