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Is Sinn Féin ready to lead the next government?

The party is more popular than ever and has its eye on becoming the senior coalition partner.

SINN FÉIN HAS never been more popular in the Republic.

The party regularly achieves above 20% in opinion polls – placing it neck-and-neck, or sometimes more popular, than Fine Gael – the largest party in the state and, of course, the senior government partner.

Gerry Adams and co have repeatedly said they’re not necessarily vying for a place in cabinet, but one eye is certainly fixed on becoming an even more dominant player in Leinster House.

Easter Rising Commemorations Gerry Adams Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

So, is the party ready for its role in the next Dáil – be it in power or opposition?

The ‘broken calculator’

Sinn Féin has repeatedly been criticised for its approach to economics – with Fine Gael, in particular, taking every opportunity they can to poke holes in, and fun at, the party’s mathematical ability.

Pearse Doherty, the party’s finance spokesperson, and others have repeatedly rejected claims that Sinn Féin pre-budget submission doesn’t add up – noting it has been fully costed.

Currently, the Department of Finance costs individual budget measures for opposition parties, but there is no facility for analysing the cumulative effect of budget measures and how they would impact on the economy.

When Doherty spoke to us about how the party would recoup the money lost by abolishing water charges, the Department of the Environment were critical, saying: “Yet again Sinn Féin’s calculator isn’t working.”

In an interview with TheJournal.ie last month, party leader Adams said he didn’t need to be good at maths as he’s “good as politics”.

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Abuse

Moving on from the economy, the party received a lot of negative publicity in recent times over how it handled the Mairia Cahill case.

Cahill said she was raped by a prominent member of the IRA when she was 16, and later forced to face him in a kangaroo court.

There was lengthy cross-party debate on the issue in November, with plenty of TDs lining up to take aim at Sinn Féin.

Junior Minister Gerald Nash said that by continuing to support Adams, members of Sinn Féin make a “visible mockery of their crocodile concerns”.

In February, Adams told us the accusation that there was a cover-up of abuse within the party was a “scurrilous smear”.

We asked him if he considered resigning over the issue:

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Adams said “a huge injustice was done to Mairia Cahill”, adding he had given gardaí the names of alleged IRA sex offenders thought to have been moved to the Republic – but declined to disclose how many.

Opinion polls showed a slight dip in Adams’ popularity following the controversy. However, the party’s support level has remained relatively unscathed.

Sit-in

The day after the abuse debate, the Dáil was adjourned after Mary Lou McDonald staged a four-hour sit-in. Sinn Féin’s deputy leader made the stand (for want of a better phrase) after Joan Burton failed to answer certain questions about Irish Water.

Many labelled the protest a stunt, given its timing – something McDonald was quick to deny.

Jean McConville

Adams’ four-day detention in Antrim by police investigating the IRA abduction and murder of Jean McConville in 1972 was deemed by many in the party as politically-motivated.

Regardless, Sinn Féin had great results in the local and European elections later that month. Speaking following his release, Adams said he was innocent of any involvement in the murder of McConville.

Easter Rising Commemorations Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Despite all of the controversy, the party continues to go from strength to strength.

Last summer Eoin Ó Broin, an economic advisor to Sinn Féin and councillor in Clondalkin, said the party was “nowhere near ready” to go into government but added there was time to “get ready” before the next election.

And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing.

Britain Northern Ireland Political Talks Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams Source: AP/Press Association Images

This weekend is the party’s opportunity to cement the gains it has made, in what could be its last national conference before the general election. They’ll also have the opportunity to confirm their policy on a number of contentious issues such as abortion.

Speaking on Morning Ireland today, Doherty and several other members of Sinn Féin said the party would not make the same “mistake” as Labour: going in as a junior coalition partner. If in power, they want to be the senior partner – pure and simple.

Otherwise, the plan is to remain a major opposition player.

In January, Adams said the current government is “on its last legs” and Sinn Féin is ready for power – as soon as the public gives it to them.

Is that time now imminent?

Originally published: 6.04am

Follow @orlaryan and @TJ_Politics for updates from the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Derry this weekend. 

Read: Sinn Féin got money from Martin Sheen and other celebs but insists ‘none of this is secret’

Related: Gerry and Mary Lou prepare to rally the troops

Read: Gerry Adams: I don’t need to be good at maths

Related: What exactly is Sinn Féin’s policy on abortion?

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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