Sinn Féin policies to face scrutiny in push for power
In its move towards the mainstream, Sinn Féin will find its fiscal strategies drawing deeper analysis
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams: his position is secure and he is likely to stay on as party leader. Photograph: Eric Luke
A decade ago, then taoiseach Bertie Ahern was asked about the likelihood of Fianna Fáil going into a coalition with Sinn Féin. Surprisingly, he did not reject the proposition out of hand. He said the party was on a journey, much like the one that saw Sinn Féin The Workers Party become Democratic Left before being subsumed into the Labour Party.
He pointed out that that change had taken 20 years and indicated it would take the same period of time for Sinn Féin.
Well, Ahern was right about the mainstreaming of provisional republicanism but wrong about the timeframe. It may only take a decade. For in 20 months’ time – and perhaps much less – Sinn Féin will emerge from a general election in a strong position and will be prepared – in theory at least – to cross the Rubicon and enter government in the South for the first time.
It’s a perilous exercise reading too much into a midterm election result but this has been anything but a run-of-the-mill election and this is not a settled or run-of-the-mill period. It’s questionable whether Sinn Féin could turn around and achieve the same in a general election. But there is no party as good at consolidation, and it will certainly not rest on its laurels.
Based on the results this weekend, the party would make gains in 15 constituencies at the very least (bringing its overall Dáil seat tally to 28 out of 158). The seats where gains could be made are Carlow-Kilkenny; Cavan-Monaghan; Cork South Central; Dublin Bay North; Dublin West; Dublin North; Dublin Mid West: Dublin South West (a second TD here); Galway West; Offaly; Limerick; Louth; Waterford; Wexford; and Wicklow.
Dedicated activists Sinn Féin, unlike other smaller parties, has a large number of people who work full time for it in one role or another (its three European candidates were already full-time employees of the party, Matt Carthy for the past 15 years).
A lot of its smartest strategists from the North (with their vast experience) are now working full time on the southern project.
The party is gradually becoming more mainstream and creating an ever greater distance from its legacy of violence and armed struggle (never denied, never apologised for, but no longer central to its core aims).
Gerry Adams’s position is secure and it would not be surprising if he stayed on as leader post the next election. The party is conscious of not leaving a power vacuum in his wake as the SDLP did with John Hume. Mary Lou McDonald is a natural successor.
Sometimes what seems seamless can become tangled – Brian Cowen, after all, was seen as Ahern’s natural successor.