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Why Sinn Féin had a good election - but not a great election

Analysis: The party has increased its seats and its share of the votes but there were some notable setbacks.

ON THE DAY the general election was called Gerry Adams claimed that Sinn Féin winning one more than its 14 Dáil seats would represent a good result for the party.

Few believed him, but Sinn Féin would have always viewed this election as an opportunity to make solid progress on what it sees as its long-term road to being the largest party on the island.

At one stage on Saturday there were indications that the party could double its numbers. It’s now likely to come in with 23 or maybe 24 seats. That represents a good result, but not a great result with some notable failures across the country.

The successes should be noted. They include Adams taking his Louth running mate, Imelda Munster, into the Dáil with him.

The party also won a seat in Wicklow for the first time in 100 years and in Waterford senator David Cullinane was elected to the Dáil at the fourth attempt. Kathleen Funchion took a seat in Carlow-Kilkenny.

The party also took new seats in Dublin including longtime strategist Eoin Ó Broin in Dublin Mid-West and Louise O’Reilly in Dublin Fingal. Denise Mitchell is looking good for a seat in Dublin Bay North.

The party is set to treble its number of female TDs from two to six – a vindication of the controversial gender quota rule. Sinn Féin implemented this strictly with male-female tickets in all but one of the constituencies where it ran two candidates.

27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Mary Lou McDonald and Dessie Ellis were all re-elected this weekend. Source: RollingNews.ie

It was always expected that Sinn Féin would not perform as strongly in the actual election as it did in the opinion polls published in the lead up and so it proved. There are a few reasons for this, including that people who are less likely to vote stating their support for the party.

But it’s also down to problems with getting transfers. Adams noted yesterday that some candidates had been elected off transfers in a bid to talk down the long-held view that Sinn Féin is ‘transfer toxic’. The party is slowly but surely getting to grips with this problem, but it will be a long process and it hasn’t gone away.

The issue once again hampered its progress in Dublin West where Paul Donnelly failed to take a seat. This was thought to be one of Sinn Féin’s bankers.  The party held similar hopes for Sarah Holland to take a second seat in Dublin South-West where Sean Crowe was elected, but she was squeezed out.

In Dublin Bay South, former Fianna Fáil TD Chris Andrews was being tipped to take a seat for Sinn Féin early on in the count on Saturday. But his strong support in the inner city was not matched in the more affluent parts of the constituency and his share of the vote dwindled.

In Donegal the three-candidate strategy proved disastrous with Padraig MacLochlainn, one of the Sinn Féin’s strongest performers in the last Dáil, losing his seat and only Pearse Doherty elected in the five-seater, a traditional stronghold.

In Cavan-Monaghan there were high hopes that senator Kathryn Reilly could take a second seat for the party, but it didn’t happen.

So, what now for Sinn Féin? With a bigger Dáil team, Adams said yesterday that it would try into go into government. But that’s very unlikely given the numbers and Sinn Fein’s longstanding promise not to enter government unless it is the largest party.

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27/2/2016. General Election 2016 - Counting of Vot Paul Donnelly failed to win a seat for Sinn Féin in Dublin West Source: RollingNews.ie

One senior party figure said it was inevitable that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would do a deal, while MacLochlainn said this afternoon that there is “nothing that separates them in terms of policy and ideology”.

For Sinn Féin this would be the ideal outcome, allowing it to be by far the largest opposition party in the Dáil, dividing Irish politics into left and right and allowing it to potentially assume the mantle of an alternative government in the years ahead.

It’s what Fianna Fail in particular fears and is one of the reasons behind the party’s reluctance to deal with Fine Gael. Many ordinary members think it will only have the effect of strengthening Sinn Féin and ultimately make it the main republican party in the south of Ireland.

But Sinn Féin is also readying itself for the distinct possibility there will be a second election. Campaigns teams across the country were told before Friday’s vote to be prepared for a second election this year.

Posters will be taken down and stored carefully. Leaflets boxed up and ready to go into letter boxes and handed out at doorsteps again if needed.

A quick second election also stands to benefit Sinn Féin, particularly if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil don’t do a deal and voters take their anger out on the two parties at the ballot box.

The party will now assess the good and the bad of this election and decide where to go from here. Gerry Adams leadership will be the subject of continued speculation in the media, but his position is under no threat after this election.

Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis takes place on 22 and 23 April. It’s quite possible there will still be no new government at that point.

Liveblog: 148 down, 10 to go as recounts get under way today

Read: After voters rejected him, can Enda Kenny survive?

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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