SF delivers on its long-threatened breakthrough

SINN Féin has long threatened. This time it delivered.

It expanded far beyond its traditional strongholds. Transfers were drawn from cross-party quarters.

Candidates made a breakthrough in eight constituencies and it banished the cannibalisation of its organisation which followed the 2009 local elections.

Homes were found for two of its leading lights — Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald.

And, with a fresh and untarnished group of new deputies, it has created a situation where it is impossible for larger parties not to consider Sinn Féin when plotting future coalitions.

Newly elected TD for Louth and party president, Gerry Adams, said it has now created a position of strength to make it available for a role in future governments.

“Sinn Féin will be in government. I have no doubt about that.

“But there is no point being in government just to be the mudguard for some conservative party — we want to be the vanguard,” he said.

The RTÉ exit poll showed the most popular motivation for deciding on candidates was to protest or register anger against the Government.

Sinn Féin, like the Workers Party or Democratic Left in elections past, benefited greatly from this.

Mr Adams said he had no fears they would follow the path of other parties and collapse in more stable times.

“We stood on a very positive platform, we sought a mandate. We were very, very honest, direct and straight with the electorate and we received a mandate accordingly,” he said.

Sandra McLellan, new TD for Cork East, said there was a generation of candidates who joined the party after the Troubles had begun to ebb in the North. And she said it was the party’s campaigning record which attracted them and formed the basis for the new brand.

She said between 2007 and 2011 she has been able to establish a base and build connections in places north of her Youghal home.

Ms McLellan said the template she followed, of building a foundation at town council level, has worked well for Sinn Féin across the country.

In Portlaoise the sensational performance of Brian Stanley mirrored her own blueprint of claiming her town’s mayoralty ahead of her successful campaign. This followed in Meath, Sligo/North Leitrim and Donegal North East.

Another member of the class of 2011, Jonathan O’Brien in Cork North Central, said the mission began in 1999.

Sinn Féin members locally embarked on a 15-year plan to win a seat and reached its goal three years early.

He said consistent work on the ground on the issues of housing, drugs and community issues helped develop a trust between Sinn Féin’s representatives and the electorate.

Mr O’Brien said voters were not interested in the media debates about Mr Adams’ record during the Troubles or the party’s history.

“It just goes over people’s heads,” he said.

Sinn Féin had a strong enough performance where it needed to win seats and was not left scrounging for too many transfers.

In 2007 Sinn Féin was a wasteland when it came to transfers. It drew in 6.9% of the vote but only brought home four seats. Worse, it lost ground from where it was in 2002 and seemed bogged down in the poor performances of some of its headline acts.

This time it picked up preferences from all parties and did so outside its traditional alliances or constituencies.

Much was made about the potential liability Mr Adams will be as a detached northern figure in southern politics.

But the Louth deputy said he has no intention of stepping aside and handing over to the likes of Pearse Doherty in the new Dáil.

“I am the party leader. I have no intention of standing down,” he said.

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