Sinn Féin worked hard on the ground to become the State’s third largest party
Its opposition to water charges and medical-card losses seemed to resonate
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has make-up applied for a television interview at the RDS Ballsbridge. Photograph: Eric Luke
Sinn Féin candidates Lisa Marie Sheeh, Séighin Ó Ceallaigh and Maurice Quinlivan at the Limerick count centre. Photograph: Don Moloney/Press 22
Sinn Féin’s Chris Andrews celebrating topping the polls in his Pembroke constituency. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne
Mary Lou McDonald congratulates Sinn Féin’s Ray McHugh on his Crumlin-Kimmage victory. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne
Sinn Féin was cautious during this election campaign. As polls repeatedly predicted huge electoral gains, it downplayed the prospects for its candidates. Nobody wants egg on their face.
It can now take encouragement from the fact that it has copperfastened its place as the State’s third largest party.
The last Irish Times Ipsos/Mrbi poll of the campaign put Sinn Féin support at 19 per cent (up 12 percentage points on 2009). It came in a little under that but it successfully followed up disappointing local and European results in 2009 with a solid 2011 general election showing and there is a vast improvement in these polls.
The party’s opposition to water charges and medical-card losses seems to have resonated with voters.
In areas where this approach secured big cohorts of councillors, Sinn Féin has a chance to demonstrate it can be decisive, lead and show itself to be more than a contrary anti-establishment party.
The proportion of its candidates who have been elected is impressive and there were several places where it recognises there could have been more seats if the party machine was churning out runners at a greater rate. The success of new politicians such as Lynn Boylan and Liadh Ní Riada in the European polls shows the strength of the party brand and this success is likely to make it more attractive.
Rival parties acknowledge that Sinn Féin works hard on the ground in areas it represents or where it sees potential. One long-time Fianna Fáil tally man at the City West convention centre commended the way Sinn Féin had brought out voters in difficult areas.
The performance of councillors and TDs will decide if this local success becomes national and if the 14 Dáil seats won in 2011 can be significantly increased next time out.
The arrest of party president Gerry Adams over the death of Jean McConville was said to have galvanised party support, but the throwback to that old image of Sinn Féin may have turned off some of the soft support that could have been attracted by the performances of Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty.
Positioning itself to win more second preferences on ballot papers will be crucial. Paul Donnelly topped the poll in the Dublin West byelection but struggled for transfers and ultimately finished third.
On Saturday, Gerry Adams issued a statement saying the old way of doing politics, as practised by Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, had failed and people wanted change. He said Sinn Féin would honour the promises it made.
Sinn Féin is in a better position to fulfil some of those promises, showcase its strengths and see if it can convert MEPs and councillors into TDs in the general election.