By Jim Gibney (for Irish News)
Almost one-third-of-a-million people voted for Sinn Féin candidates across Ireland in the recent EU elections - the exact figure, 331,797 people.
No other political party on this island can claim that political allegiance because Sinn Féin is the only major party organised throughout the 32 counties.
No other political party put forward a manifesto similar to Sinn Féin’s which argued for the reunification of the country, an end to partition and a radical economic and social programme to deal with the current economic crisis.
A central plank in Sinn Féin’s electoral appeal was the need to establish a single economy on the island to end the competition for inward investment between the two administrations and the development of an island-wide strategy for regeneration.
Sinn Féin has been arguing since the formation of the all-Ireland power-sharing institutions in May ‘07 for the harmonising of the various ministries which govern the people of this island in Dublin and Belfast.
It does not make economic or practical sense for an island this small to have two separate ministries handling agriculture, health, education, infrastructure etc.
The task facing Sinn Féin, particularly its promotion of all-Ireland solutions to the many problems facing Irish society, is considerable.
Partition created two states and two self-serving systems that are fighting to hold onto political power.
In the six counties unionists created a sectarian state which they dominated. In the 26 counties Fianna Fail and Fine Gael were the product of partition and the civil war. An era of civil war and conservative politics began and more or less continues to this day.
In the six counties Sinn Féin’s strategy of placing equality at the heart of its programme for change is transforming society there; for this and for other reasons Sinn Féin has been the lead party on the nationalist side for quite some time and as a result of the EU election it is now the lead party in the six counties ahead of both unionist parties, the DUP and the UUP.
This is an incredible and uplifting outcome for republicans across the island but particularly for northern nationalists who have had to live in a state which discriminated against them and treated them as second-class citizens.
Sinn Féin’s political project in the 26 counties is proving to be every bit as difficult as its project in the six counties where the SDLP held sway over northern nationalists for over 25 years.
Sinn Féin gradually replaced the SDLP as the lead party by popular demand, after the ceasefire and the party’s proven superior negotiating skills (under the SDLP’s Sunningdale the RUC was left intact).
In the south the party has an understandably more modest objective - to extend its republican support base beyond the border counties and those areas where there has been an historical republican base into areas where republican politics are weaker.
Sinn Féin fought a good campaign. It challenged the right wing policies of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and offered alternatives on job retention, creation, tackling the public finance deficit, the banking crisis, housing and health provision.
And although republicans are very disappointed at losing Mary Lou McDonald’s EU seat in Dublin - they polled just short of 50,000 votes - progress was made in other parts of the country - Toireasa Ferris in constituency South narrowly missed a seat, polling 64,671 votes, more than doubling Sinn Féin’s vote since the EU election of 2004; Padraig Mac Lochlainn in North West/Connacht-Ulster polled 45, 515 and Tomas Sharkey and Kathleen Funchion in East/Leinster polled 47,499.
The party picked up extra county council seats in Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick, Mayo, Offaly, Tipperary, Waterford and Wicklow. Sinn Féin now has 54 county council seats and 67 town council and borough seats.
Sinn Féin has elected representatives in 31 out of Ireland’s 32 counties.
Overall the electorate in the 26 counties voted to the right and left in their opposition to the Fianna Fail government’s handling of the economy leaving them with their worse ever result.
The last thing the people need is a Fine Gael-Labour coalition government. The time is ripe for realignment in Irish politics with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael coalescing and facing a republican-labour opposition.