17 June 2004 Edition
2 MEPs as Sinn Féin surges
BY ROBBIE SMYTH
As new Sinn Féin councillors were elected throughout the 26 Counties, the scale of the party's growth across the island was registered most strongly in the EU election results. In the Six Counties, Sinn Féin polled as the largest nationalist party for the third consecutive election and Bairbre de Brún was elected as an MEP just hours after Mary Lou McDonald had become the party's first MEP in the early hours of Monday morning.
In the Six Counties, Sinn Féin's 144,541 first preferences gave the party 26.31% of the poll, its highest ever percentage of first preferences.
In the 26 Counties, Sinn Féin's total share of first preferences came in at 11.1%, compared to the Labour Party's 10.6%, and put the party as the third largest party in the 26 Counties and the island as a whole. In the local elections, Sinn Féin won 8% of first preferences.
We always knew Dublin was a possible breakthrough constituency for Sinn Féin and so it transpired. Mary Lou McDonald came in third on the first count, with a massive 60,395 first preferences, less than a thousand votes behind Fianna Fáil's Eoin Ryan. Her vote share of 14.32% was significantly higher than the 12% poll predictions.
In the East, John Dwyer polled 8.68% of first preferences, 39,356 votes, compared to 6.48% in 1999 and was sixth on the first count. The Irish Examiner poll had put Sinn Féin at 6% while the Irish Times had the party at 10% in East. Dwyer stayed in the hunt until the last count.
In the South, David Cullinane's 32,643 votes won Sinn Féin 6.74% of the vote. The Irish Examiner had Sinn Féin at 6%, while the Irish Times poll said 8%. Cullinane was eliminated after the fifth count. Sinn Féin polled 6.48% of first preferences in 1999.
A third Sinn Féin MEP seat seemed tantalisingly close all weekend, as tallies and counts laboured on. In the end, Pearse Doherty came in second on the first count, with 65,321 first preferences and 15.5% of the vote. In 1999, Sinn Féin polled 6.39% of first preferences in the then Connacht/Ulster constituency. The Irish Examiner and Times polls had put the Sinn Féin vote in the Northwest at 15%.
Doherty battled it out until the final count but was unable to close a 7,000 vote gap that had opened up between him and Jim Higgins.
The four 26-County polls affirmed Sinn Féin's growing electoral power that will significantly enhance the party's ability to win more Leinster House seats. Ten seats or more seems a tantalising target, while in the Six Counties the remaining SDLP Westminster seats could easily change hands next time around.