Sinn Féin has made historic gains in local and European elections at the expense of Fianna Fáil in the South and the SDLP in the North.
The party has returned an all-Ireland team of Euro MP -- Bairbre de Brun in the North and Mary Lou McDonald in Dublin -- and narrowly missed pulling off a shock in the Northwest constituency.
While the result in the North was largely expected, it was the result of the lcoal and European elections in the 26 Counties that stunned political observers.
Fianna Fáil, the self-styled party of government, is expected to finish on around 30% -- down from 39% in 1999 and losing up to 80 city and county council seats, bringing it down to the psychological watermark of 300 seats. Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has more than doubled its vote and brought its number of city and council seats to 52.
If the local election results were repeated in the next general election, Fianna Fáil would lose up to 20 of its 81 seats in the Dublin parliament, and Sinn Féin would have 16s. FF’s ground was predominantly lost to Sinn Féin, especially in Dublin, as the nationalist party doubled its support.
The Fáilure of the government to deliver public services in a time of booming public fiannces was chiefly blamed for the party’s decline, while vituperative attacks by goverment ministers on Sinn Féin appear to have backfired.
Fine Gael stopped the disastrous slide from 2002 by holding its support steady at 1999 levels, and Labour’s vote also remained the same, as Fianna Fáil’s vote slid to historic lows.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said the party would continue to build. “We are a party that is totally committed to its objective and working towards them. I am very firmly of the view that the support which Sinn Féin takes we will keep and we will build upon in the time ahead,” he said.
The party again increased its vote in the North, where unionist support dropped under 50% for the first time.
While the DUP hogged the limelight by topping the poll, Sinn Féin’s former Minister for Health in the Stormont Executive was also elected on the first count.
Bairbre de Brun paid tribute to all involved in Sinn Féin’s election campaign across the island, and professed delight that she would be joined in Europe by her Dublin colleague Mary Lou McDonald.
Referring to former party colleagues who had been shot dead in the conflict, she said she was mindful of the need to use her mandate wisely.
“We have to move forward to ensure that we do as we said we would and that we promote the peace process, that we work to an all-Ireland agenda and that we work for equality and an Ireland of equals and a Europe of equals,” she said.
“We must also, given our place now within the European Parliament, make those institutions a little more real for people here so they can make their voices heard and so they can feel part and parcel of the decision-making.
“We will go from here to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full and that people have a brighter future.”
Mr Adams said his party would use its mandate wisely. With his arm across Miss de Brun’s shoulders, the West Belfast MP acknowledged the DUP’s victory.
“We were witness to the DUP victory,” he said. “We acknowledge and we respect their mandate. We ask them to respect our mandate.”
In Letterkenny, supporters of Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty cheered their candidates despite his narrow defeat on the last count of two days of dramatic competition. All sides paid credit to the 26-year-old’s campaign, which is sure to bear fruit in the next general election.