Friday 26 May 2017

Sinn Fein to build on gains

Sinn Fein is celebrating record gains in the General Election, but party strategists believe the trebling of its strength in the Dail will be a springboard for even greater growth.

It is the only all-Ireland party and holds a dominant position north of the border, but Sinn Fein has previously struggled to bridge the divide between the very different political arenas on either side of the Irish map.

A disastrous result in the Republic's last general election in 2007, when it fell from five seats to four, threatened to derail its high hopes for southern expansion.

But after years spent rebuilding the party, Gerry Adams' team had positioned itself to capitalise on the public anger over the collapse of the economy.

Sinn Fein insiders now believe the party is poised to make a major impact on politics in the South and to consolidate its position north of the border, but both developments follow a period when it seemed the wheels were in danger of coming off what was once described as the Sinn Fein juggernaut.

The years following the signing of the Good Friday peace deal in 1998 saw rapid growth for Sinn Fein on both sides of the border, but the IRA's record heist at the Northern Bank in 2004 and the controversy surrounding the republican murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast in 2005 were two events in a tumultuous period that rocked Sinn Fein.

Since then it has painstakingly rebuilt its political position on both sides of the border by securing a historic commitment from the DUP's Ian Paisley to share power with republicans in 2007, followed by a major effort to reinvigorate the party in the Republic.

Those efforts have steadied the Sinn Fein ship, which the party hopes is now securely docked in Dublin. The captain of the vessel, Gerry Adams, is poised to enter Dail Eireann - an image arguably as unexpected as many of the historic photo-calls seen at Stormont.

The politician who was synonymous with west Belfast, and whose voice was once banned from Irish airwaves, will soon be heard in the Dail chamber.

But his long-time political partner, Martin McGuinness, believes that something more fundamental is happening behind the imagery.

"This election is a step-change for Sinn Fein because we have a number of rising stars in our party, who are very republican, who are very conscious of the need to put people first," he said.

"So the blend of experience, and the coming to the fore of these young people, I think is going to be very powerful in the course of the next Dail.

"And it will be very powerful for Sinn Fein to see the leader of our party being elected, and effectively being full time in the south and in Dublin through the Dail, which is of huge importance because all of that undoubtedly complements the strides forward we have taken in the north."

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