By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Unionists appear pleased that Fianna Fail will not have to rely on Sinn Fein votes in order to return to government. For the last six months, they have been concerned that Sinn Fein might hold the balance of power in the Irish Republic after last Friday’s general election.
The ultimate unionist nightmare would have seen Sinn Fein ministers on the Northern executive sitting across the table from Sinn Fein ministers in a Dublin government.
This would have provided an image, if not the reality, of an all-Ireland administration — an image that Sinn Fein is equally anxious to bring about, although it will have to wait until at least the next general election in the Republic.
The Ulster Unionist Party argued that Sinn Fein gains were overrated, in a statement after the election results in which Sinn Fein scored five Dail seats.
UUP Minister Sir Reg Empey said Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had a range of other prospective partners in government, including the Progressive Democrats and independents, and would not have to depend on Sinn Fein for votes.
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“Any observer can see how insignificant their vote is compared to the broader picture,” another UUP minister, Michael McGimpsey, said.
The UUP expressed anger at the amount of media airtime being given to Sinn Fein’s five seats.
Unionists will also have taken note of Ahern’s remarks after the election, where he said the time had not yet come for Sinn Fein to enter government in the Irish Republic, not until they had completely dealt with the issue of arms and the IRA. With Sinn Fein in power in the Stormont Assembly under the Good Friday Agreement supported by Ahern, this will seem hypocritical to Unionists.