Friday 26 December 2014

Comment: All parties wondering how arrest will impact on floating voters

Published 03/05/2014 | 02:30

Mary Lou McDonald was little more than three years old when Jean McConville was dragged from her 10 children, kidnapped, murdered, her body desecrated and abandoned in an unmarked grave for another 31 years.

The Sinn Fein deputy leader is part of a new generation of Sinn Fein politicians with ability and ambition helping propel the party into a new era. But, since Wednesday, Ms McDonald has been dragged back 40 years to events in the darkest days of violence on this island and forced to defend her party leader, Gerry Adams.

Yesterday afternoon, as it accepted the likelihood that its party president and poll-topping TD for Louth would be detained for another two days, Sinn Fein insisted events had put more iron in the soul of its activists.

A SF spokesman pledged a re-doubled effort on the European and local election canvass trail both north and south. There can be no doubt that events since Wednesday have united SF people.

In fact, seasoned Northern Ireland observers believe that a stint in jail is no load to a Sinn Fein leader persistently striving to keep the extreme republican fringes within and outside the party from getting out of control.

The Sinn Fein argument that Gerry Adams's detention, and its timing, are all about stymying its breakthrough election in the Republic on May 23, have been well-ventilated.

The SF thesis is that "elements of unionism", and "their pals still lurking within the PSNI", see these mid-term elections in the south as a prelude to Sinn Fein achieving a presence in government, both north and south, within a few years.

Nobody south of the Border buys these arguments. Not Fine Gael, nor Labour, nor Fianna Fail. It is no surprise unionists also reject them as do the British authorities. But neither do the SDLP have any time for these SF assertions.

The Taoiseach's point that SF was only weeks ago recommending the "PSNI model" for policing in the Republic is a good one. But politicians of all other parties have been fixated by events since Wednesday.

The political question is this: will Adams's arrest and detention have any impact on the floating voters who were showing signs of supporting Sinn Fein?

Sinn Fein got 10pc of the vote in the February 2011 General Election. It has been showing twice that in recent opinion polls. We cannot know the impact of recent events on that newly-won SF support. And we must await further developments before we can begin to speculate.

Irish Independent

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