Sinn Féin triumph
Mícheál MacDonncha analyses a momentous week
Two Sinn Féin MPs. Sinn Féin overtaking the DUP as the third
party in the Six Counties. The Tories reduced to a parliamentary
rump with no seats in Wales or Scotland. Who would have believed
it could happen even a week ago?
It is difficult fully to appreciate the enormity of what has
taken place. For republicans of course the achievement of Sinn
Féin is a cause of celebration and an enormous sign of hope for
the future. It is important to examine the full signifigance of
The Daily Telegraph said on its front page that Sinn Féin had
achieved its best electoral result in the Six Counties for 40
years. Technically that is true as in 1955 Sinn Féin got two MPs
and 25% of the vote. But that was an exceptional election in an
era when Sinn Féin intervened rarely in elections and deployed no
consistent electoral strategy. It was not until 1982 that such a
consistent strategy began to be developed.
In 1983 Gerry Adams was elected for West Belfast for the first
time and Danny Morrison missed Mid-Ulster by only 78 votes. But
that was only the beginning of a long period of building a party.
Initial fears in British and Dublin government circles that the
SDLP would be eclipsed by Sinn Féin eventually subsided. At times
they were to be followed with predictions of a Sinn Féin decline.
But in election after election, both local and Westminster over
15 years Sinn Féin has firmly established its base of support and
then expanded upon it.
What Sinn Féin has now is a seasoned, experienced election
machine. It is thus better placed than it could ever have been in
1983 or at any time in the past to consolidate its gains, retain
its parliamentary seats and win more.
Those in the SDLP who were most negative about the Hume-Adams
dialogue, such as Seamus Mallon and Joe Hendron, realise the
signifigance of the Sinn Féin achievement and their post-election
bitterness shows it. In a pathetic whinge to the Irish News
Hendron spoke of the ingratitude of the voters he had helped over
so many years. He called Sinn Féin fascist in one breath and in
the next he said he believed Gerry Adams was sincere about peace.
Mallon called the high Sinn Féin vote an aberration.
The muted coverage in much of the media in Dublin was also caused
by overindulgence in sour grapes. The Irish Times on the day
after the count pointedly carried no photographs of the Sinn Féin
MPs or the celebrations of supporters and ran a venomous cartoon
by Martyn Turner which depicted Mitchel McLaughlin with a Hitler
moustache. Editorial scorn was also poured on Sinn Féin by the
Irish Times and the Irish Independent spoke of what a bad
result it was.
It seems that 15 years after Sinn Féin entered the electoral
arena in the Six Counties certain elements still have big
problems coming to terms with the chosen representatives of the
nationalist people. One such is John Bruton. His only comment on
the electoral verdict of nationalists was to falsely accuse Gerry
Adams of making a menacing comment at the hunger-strike
commemoration in Belfast last Sunday.
Having made the mistake of telling nationalists how to vote and
getting a short answer, Bruton is now electioneering on the
southern side of the border. He dreads Sinn Féin success there as
well. The point Adams was making was that his party has seen off
Margaret Thatcher and John Major, both of whom for years had
tried to destroy Sinn Féin. Bruton would be better advised to
accept that fact and to address the new reality.
d what a new reality it is. One commentator pointed out that
with no seats in Scotland or Wales the Tories are now the English
National Party. John Major fought his election campaign on the
basis of defence of the Union. He was turfed out. Remember
Major's dire prediction at the start of the campaign that a
Labour victory would mean the end of ``1000 years of British
history''? This is the beginning of the end. Labour and the
Liberal Democrats are committed to constitutional reform and
parliaments for Scotland and Wales. Next month the Union Jack
will be lowered in Hong Kong, the last significant outpost of the
British Empire (apart from the Six Counties of course).
Now put yourself in the minds of the unionists in Ireland in this
scenario. Gone is their parliamentary leverage on John Major.
Their Tory allies have been devastated and face a long period in
the opposition wilderness, racked by division. The new Labour
Prime Minister Tony Blair has a huge majority and a free hand to
deal with Ireland. Of course the unionists have friends in
Labour. Of course that party's policy on Irish unity has been
watered down. Of course such a strong majority could be turned
against republicans. But the key factor now is the momentum for
The only way for all party leaders to lead their followers is to
the talks table. The status quo is not an option. All mandates
must be recognised, a fact that Tony Blair and new British
Secretary of State Mo Mowlam must accept.
It is republicans who have created the momentum for change. It
must be maintained now both in the local government elections
across the Six Counties on 21 May and in the general election in
the 26 Counties which is expected to be held on 6 June. The
election of a Sinn Féin TD or TDs would be another force for
change. After such a momentous week who can doubt the ability of
Sinn Féin to do the business once again?