Election 2016: Opportunity missed despite success for Sinn Féin

A sense remains the party did not perform as well as it could have, despite its seat gains

Sinn Féin had a good election, not a spectacular one, and as always, the party’s support in opinion polls was somewhat overstated.

Past electoral disappointments have created caution in Sinn Féin about going public with targets.

Leader Gerry Adams was therefore careful to say on the first day of the campaign he was merely hoping for more than the 14 seats the party left the 31st Dáil with, although Sinn Féin was always going to do much better.

Adams’s weak media performances and poor grasp of financial detail were widely commented upon during the short campaign, but his vote-getting ability and star quality among the grassroots appears to remain entirely undiminished.


In Louth, his poll-topping performance helped to bring in running mate Imelda Munster – the first woman TD in the constituency.

A number of other new TDs will join their more established party colleagues in Leinster House.

This was thanks in no small part to Adams’s endorsement and assistance, although the party representatives’ work on the ground should not be underestimated.

In Wicklow, John Brady became the party's first Dáil representative in the area for almost 100 years.

David Cullinane’s strong Seanad and media profile saw him take a Dáil seat in Waterford at his fourth attempt.

Cullinane's wife, Kathleen Funchion, from whom he is separated, took a seat in Carlow-Kilkenny, after a respectable performance in the May 2015 byelection.

Maurice Quinlivan took a seat in Limerick city, while Sinn Féin candidate Carol Nolan was elected in the Offaly constituency.


By any assessment, a party making the leap from 14 to 20-something TDs is a party that had a good day. However, a sense remains that the party did not perform quite as well as it could and perhaps should have done even better.

Sinn Féin overstretched itself in Donegal with a three candidate strategy that ended up with jeopardising outgoing TD Pádraig MacLochlainn's seat. He eventually lost out to outgoing Independent TD Thomas Pringle, and only Pearse Doherty was returned for Sinn Féin in the constituency.

The working assumption was that the party would easily get at least two seats in Donegal, but perfect vote management is required in a constituency of that size.

In Dublin West, there was surprise that Cllr Paul Donnelly failed to take a seat with the wind at his back.

The party also had high hopes for former Fianna Fáil TD Chris Andrews, who was eliminated in Dublin Bay South on Sunday morning.

In some areas, Sinn Féin ran into a resurgent Fianna Fáil; in others, Independent, small party or far-left candidates proved more popular and transfer-friendly.

Labour tactics

Eoin Ó Broin, a new TD for the party in Dublin Mid-West and a key party strategist, stressed Sinn Féin had learned valuable lessons from what it perceived to be tactical mistakes by Labour.

"We do not want a Gilmore Gale or a Spring Tide," Ó Broin said, referring to the Labour's temporary surges under former leaders Eamon Gilmore and Dick Spring.

Ó Broin believes Sinn Féin is on a steady upwards trajectory and coalescing with a larger party would upset its long-term momentum.

Some constituencies will go down to the wire for the party. A full recount will now take place this morning in the Wexford constituency after Sinn Féin's Johnny Mythen lost out on the last seat by just 52 votes to Government chief whip Paul Kehoe.

In the aftermath of the economic crash, former Fine Gael director of elections Phil Hogan memorably appealed to "decent" Fianna Fáil voters to lend his party their votes ahead of the 2011 general election.

Adams referred to this temporary loan at the weekend, noting that people had become disillusioned with Fine Gael and would again become disillusioned with Fianna Fáil.

Sinn Féin would be there for them in future, was his assurance.

Senior party figures have effectively ruled the party out of participation in a coalition government, although some appear to have allowed a little wriggle room.

The party will carry out rigorous assessments of each constituency and its strategy in the campaign. The success or otherwise of the party’s involvement in the Right 2 Change movement, which sprang from the anti-water charges campaign, will be top of the list.

Sinn Féin insists the focus on the leadership is a media fixation, but it is hard to imagine the topic will not come up for discussion.

The party’s traditional ‘transfer toxicity’ has meant that more transfer-friendly candidates have leapfrogged Sinn Féin representatives who pulled in a better initial first-preference vote than their opponents.

The party has worked hard to select transfer-friendly candidates, and a general strengthening of the party brand has meant the ‘toxicity’ factor is dwindling, but still needs work.

The youth vote, to which the party’s high showing in opinion polls is often attributed, was apparently less active than it was during the marriage referendum.