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13 June 1997 Edition

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One TD and Two MPs

The stunning victory of Sinn Féin in Cavan-Monaghan represents the biggest breakthrough for the party in the 26 Counties for decades. Caoimhghín O Caoláin topped the poll with 11,531 votes, making him one of the ten highest poll-toppers in the 6 June general election.
No-one should underestimate the importance of this achievement. Sinn Féin has truly arrived as a strong political force with its entry to Leinster House and this is not only because of the Cavan-Monaghan victory. The party's vote increased significantly across all 14 constituencies contested - in most cases by 100%. Both Seán Crowe in Dublin South-West and Martin Ferris in North Kerry came close to winning seats. While everything has been done by the political and media establishment to play down the Sinn Féin success, on the ground the message is clear - the republican alternative is winning more and more hearts and minds.

1997 has been Sinn Féin's year. With dramatic victories in Mid-Ulster and West Belfast and now Cavan-Monaghan Sinn Féin is on the rise.


The people's victory


Brian Campbell describes the scenes at the count in Cootehill

At 2.50pm on Saturday RTE was still saying that Sinn Féin would ``possibly'' be fighting for the fifth seat in Cavan/Monaghan. But almost four hours earlier the Sinn Féin tally had shown that Caoimhghín O Caoláin was headed for a landslide victory.

The Sinn Féin tally was carried out on two small tables under the stairs in the count centre in Cootehill Comprehensive School. The tally people counted the Sinn Féin preferences as each ballot box was emptied, marked them on a tally card and handed the cards to runners who brought them to the tally table. Every few minutes Caoimhghín would arrive and with the flourish of a lucky poker player throwing his cards on the table he would ask, ``What was the target for Monaghan Urban?'' ``98 votes from three boxes.'' ``Well, will you take 103 from one box?'', and the card was thrown triumphantly on the table.

It was like that for two hectic hours. At one stage a Fine Gael tallywoman fainted but the count continued unabated. Like a scene from one of those old cowboy films, she was taken away and her place at the circled wagons was taken by another volunteer.

By 11.00am it was clear that Caoimhghín would top the poll. A phone call came through from the prisoners in Long Kesh - they were among the first to know about the historic victory.

The Sinn Féin team surged out of the count centre to jubilant scenes outside. Gerry Adams arrived and was swept into the cheering, flag-waving crowd. In radio interviews both he and Caoimhghín talked about an important breakthrough.

Then Gerry Adams whispered to Pat Treanor, the director of elections, ``Is your tally accurate? Because if it isn't, there's going to be some red faces about.'' Pat laughed, just a little nervously. ``We're safe enough,'' he said.

Inside the hall, the other parties looked a little bewildered. ``We're only lending you the seat,'' one Fianna Fáil tallyman said. ``That's what the SDLP said and look what happened them,'' said a Sinn Féin worker.

The result wasn't announced until 4.30pm, by which time one side of the count centre was jam-packed with Sinn Féin supporters waving dozens of tricolours. Outside, dozens more had climbed up to get a view through the high windows. Caoimhghín stood at the rail with three of his daughters, Pat Treanor, and Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

There was a hush while the numbers were read out. ``O Caoláin, eleven thousand, five hundred and thirty one...'' and his supporters erupted in cheering and flag waving. ``And I declare Caoimhghín O Caoláin elected...'' and for the first time Caoimhghín allowed himself to celebrate. He punched the air, then hugged his daughters before he was engulfed by supporters and swept out of the hall.

``One TD and two MPs, doo-dah, doo-dah,'' sang the crowd as the two MPs carried the TD shoulder high. Later, they stood together on a low wall and addressed the hundreds of Sinn Féin supporters.

``Sixteen years ago, we had Kieran Doherty TD. Now we have Caoimhghín O Caoláin TD,'' said Gerry Adams, remembering the last republican TD for Cavan/Monaghan. Hunger striker Kieran Doherty died a few weeks after being elected in1981 and his memory had been everywhere during the campaign.

Caoimhghín told the crowd that they were the foundation on which the victory had been built. ``We have emboldened the republican tradition,'' he said. ``We in this constituency have faced censorship and state oppression but we have held our heads up high and we have faced them down and today we have had our victory.''

Martin McGuinness said he was ``overjoyed to be here today. This is a remarkable breakthrough. Over the last two months we have broken the mould of Irish politics and my greatest joy is that our victories were all-Ireland victories. Our opponents talk about trains leaving stations but if we aren't on that train it is going absolutely nowhere.''

Caoimhghín and his supporters then set off on a cavalcade which took them through Cavan and Monaghan. In Monaghan town a crowd had gathered in Church Square. Caoimhghín stepped out of the car to greet them. Everywhere hands were reached out and he was hugged as he walked up the street. It was a scene of unconfined joy. For those republicans who had marched and held vigils, who had been imprisoned and seen pain and suffering, this was their victory.


How the election was won

The numbers add up - calm among the mayhem as the result is announced

As the votes were counted in Cootehill, I waited for one ballot box in particular. I had spent the previous day in Ballynarry polling station, near Ballyjamesduff in rural Co Cavan. As voters trickled in during the day it was a world away from the noisy hustle of the count centre where its ballot box was destined. It was the sort of place where everyone knew everyone else. ``See that man there,'' the presiding officer said to me as an old man cast his vote, ``his mother and father were married on Easter Monday, 1916.''

In the 1992 general election only six of Ballynarry's 500 voters had voted for Caoimhghín O Caoláin. This time the target for local activists was 34. When the votes were counted 57 people had given Sinn Féin their first preferences, an increase of almost 1000%.

What had brought about this remarkable transformation?

Yes, there was the ending of censorship and the popularity of Sinn Féin's peace strategy. There was also Sinn Féin's record of working within communities to empower working-class people. That has been true in every area in which the party has made gains and in Cavan/Monaghan Sinn Féin's record of hard work is second to none. In particular, Caoimhghín O Caoláin has a well-deserved reputation for his work on the ground over many years.

But those factors alone don't explain the massively increased vote.

The story really begins last November when an election convention selected Caoimhghín O Caoláin to fight the seat. An election directorate went to work immediately. Pat Treanor was director of elections with Bill McLaughlin as the director of canvass, assisted by Councillor Brian McKenna. Brian McDonald was director of publicity and Seán Conlon organised the postering of the constituency. A sixth, and key, member of the directorate was Paul Cassidy, a native of Mayo.

It was not difficult to see where the strength was in the constituency. In Monaghan Sinn Féin has ten councillors, in Cavan they have none. In 1992 Sinn Féin got less than 900 votes from Cavan. If the election was going to be won, there had to be a massive increase in Cavan, to at least 3,000 votes. Many doubted it could be done.

``The most important thing was to believe in ourselves and sow the seeds of belief in others,'' said Bill McLaughlin. There followed a constant series of meetings to put in place election teams in each of the eight County Council areas - four each in Cavan and Monaghan.

In early April each area was given a register and asked to identify voters aged between 18 - 25, people missing from the register and non voters.

This information was given to Paul Cassidy. Using figures from the 1992 general election and 1994 local elections together with this new information he projected an increase in the Sinn Féin vote. This was then increased by 10% to give a target for each of the 214 ballot boxes in the constituency. Thus the target for Ballynarry was 34 votes. The combined targets would have given Caoimhghín 8,300 votes, enough to take the last seat.

When the election was called each area had an electoral register, together with the Sinn Féin vote from each ballot box in 1992 and the target for 1997. All this was ready when the election was called.

By this stage the directorate was working flat out. Pat Treanor rose at 6.30 every morning to work for a couple of hours on his farm before setting off to do election work. It was usually midnight before he got home each night.

The most experienced people on the directorate concentrated on Cavan and South Monaghan, working with local leaders: Pat Lynch in South Monaghan, Harry McCabe and Seamus Hughes in Bailieboro, Tina Tully in Ballyjamesduff, Brian McKeown in Cavan town, and Dessie McManus and Peadar Neary in West Cavan.

An election office was opened in Cavan town and canvassing began throughout the constituency. From the start the feedback was positive. Fianna Fáil also knew that there was strong support for Sinn Féin. Their response was to talk up the chances of Ann Gallagher, the Labour candidate. Gallagher had polled well in the last election, particularly in North Monaghan, an area where Sinn Féin was strongest.

The next stage of the strategy was implemented immediately after the local elections in the 6 Counties. Experienced election organisers were drafted in to help in Cavan and South Monaghan. Brian Tumilty from Newry was assigned to Ballyjamesduff, Gearóid O hEara to Cavan Town, Lucillita Breatnach and Francie Molloy to Bailieboro, Pat McNamee to South Monaghan and Colm Lynagh to West Cavan. Of particular help were the Sinn Féin office staff from Enniskillen who decamped to Cavan town where they ran the election office there.

In each area, with help from all over the 6 Counties, an intensive blanket canvass was carried out, seeking support and trying to identify Sinn Féin voters. People like Mick Murphy, fresh from two outstanding election campaigns, swopped the Mourne Mountains for the lakes of Cavan, making regular trips to canvass with local people around Ballyjamesduff.

``When the canvass began,'' said Colm Lynagh, ``it was obvious that there was going to be a huge swing to Sinn Féin. People were disillusioned with the other politicians, they were sympathetic to Sinn Féin's record on the peace process, they had seen and heard the leadership and we had an excellent candidate.''

The final part of the strategy was a more focused canvass in the last week of the campaign. The Sinn Féin leadership - Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Lucillita Breathnach, Gerry Kelly and Mitchel McLaughlin - concentrated on areas with the largest potential for picking up support. They had non-stop schedules. On the day before polling, Gerry Adams visited a factory in Cootehill at 7.45am, a primary school at 9.00, Newbliss at 9.45, Clones at 10.30, Clones Mart at 11.45, another factory at 12.45, Butlersbridge at 2.35, Cavan town at 3.00, two more factories at 4.15 and 5.00 and back to Cavan town where he canvassed until after 9.00pm. Lucillita Breathnach was in that much of a hurry that she was fined for speeding outside Cavan town.

On the morning of the count there was a good feeling. Nervous but confident. Paul Cassidy, the man who turned the strategy into numbers and kept everyone focused on their targets had gone to Dublin to have his canoe repaired. He was in the middle of a lake in Cavan when his targets were smashed to smithereens. In Monaghan the vote rose by 100%. In Cavan it had risen by a remarkable 400% to 3,500 votes.

At 4.30 on Saturday 7 June, those who had made it possible - too many to mention in this article - cheered as it was announced that the Sinn Féin TD for Cavan/Monaghan had topped the poll.


Smile, you're on 2.63%

It might not seem like something to advertise, but the figures show the Dublin dispossessed have put Sinn Féin on the brink of electoral gains in the capital, writes Rita O'Reilly.

In 1992 it was 1.95% of first preference votes, with the party standing in all constituencies. This time, five candidates picked up 2.63% of the citywide share. At the RDS count centre on Saturday last, the other parties threw wary eyes at the Shinners. This time round though, it was less to do with their fear of `subversives' and more to do with the fear of god being put in them.

After all, there it was, the Sinn Féin vote, creeping in even in Terenure and upper Crumlin, holding high in mid and lower Crumlin and swamping the other candidates in St James' in the heart of the Liberties. And that was just Dublin South Central, where one of the few women candidates, Martina Kenna, gained 4.77% of first preferences, up from 1.70% in 1992 and staying in after the elimination of the Green and the PD. Her team is now talking about ``a comprehensive review of local government areas with a view to challenging for a Leinster House seat''. Local authority gains are already a must for Sinn Féin in Dublin, but a longer term strategy is also being taken seriously.

This was most in evidence in the Tallaght count centre in Dublin South West, where away from the election fever brought on by Seán Crowe's 3,725 first preference votes, a cold sweat was breaking out on assorted other faces. The reality hitting several parties was that before his final count elimination, Crowe was just 269 votes behind outgoing Labour TD Eamon Walsh. Council seats in Tallaght for Sinn Féin seem assured, and in the next general election, the constituency is wide open. Eamon Walsh will be fighting to recover his seat from Fianna Fáil's Conor Lenihan, but it is Seán Crowe's vote that most threatens the chances of both these and PD leader Mary Harney and Pat Rabbitte.
Sinn Féin must seek to become the first choice for voters who have in the past plumped for the type of Labour, Democratic Left and Fianna Fáil candidates who trawl working-class and unemployed areas for votes before turning their back once in power

As in other areas of significant Sinn Féin support, turnout is the big problem. Republicans will need to persuade people that community empowerment combined with the use of voting power provides the best chance for change. In Fettercairn in Tallaght, turnout was just 35%, in Killinarden it was around 40%, and in the whole constituency it was one of the lowest in the country at 55.91%.

Sinn Féin election workers in the area say they were the only party trying to get the vote out in low-turnout estates. They blame the low turnouts as much on the absence of the other parties on polling day as on people's general disillusionment.

In Dublin North East Sinn Féin candidate Larry O'Toole's heartland of Darndale had a 33% turnout in `92 but the work of Sinn Féin this time brought the turnout to almost 50% - the bulk of the votes going to O'Toole. A limited registration campaign in Dublin Central by Christy Burke's workers indicated a significant proportion of people ignorant of how to vote.

A continuous campaign will be needed on both voter registration and political education if the party is to help bring power back to the areas it seeks to represent. While new confidence is already evident in Dublin that this can be done, encouraging that confidence to publicly assert itself will be a harder slog.

What is clear is that running on the drugs issue alone does not translate into votes, a lesson hard won by the independent candidate André Lyder in Dublin South Central. Brian Kenna, Sinn Féin director of elections there, says it has been Sinn Féin's ability to identify all the issues which link into the drug problem that has persuaded voters out in drug-ravaged areas. ``The issue of drugs is an awful lot more complex than just `pushers out' and Sinn Féin is alone amongst the political parties in being prepared to address all the issues''.

If Sinn Féin is to pick up support beyond the pockets where issues like drugs have put it in the public eye, it is a sustained articulation of what republicanism stands for on all issues that will do that. Clearly voters identify with Sinn Féin as a party on the drugs issue, as well as with the individual activist candidates. This was particularly so in Dublin North East and Dublin West with John McCann. In both areas new ground was won in areas like Blanchardstown (Dublin West) and Kilbarrack and Donaghmede (Dublin North East).

For several elections Dublin Central was regarded as the only realisable chance of a seat in Dublin for Sinn Féin. Boundary changes and the continuing presence of Independent Tony Gregory always made it difficult for Christy Burke. This time the added factor was the tight Fianna Fáil transfer strategy which ensured a second Fianna Fáil seat. But this election has put the party on the map in all constituencies with Dublin South-West in particular looking good for a seat next time out.

What will buoy republican confidence in urban areas is that there is now no doubt that the republican vote is the decisive vote in several key constituencies. In Dublin North East Larry O'Toole's vote was crucial to the loss of a seat by Democratic Left's Pat McCartan in 1992 and this time he outpolled McCartan's successor. O'Toole in North-East and John McCann in Dublin West both have strong local votes which continuing work will transfer into council seats.

In Dublin South Central, Democratic Left's Eric Byrne might look at his anti-Sinn Féin stance as one good reason for why he lost his seat - almost 1,000 transfers went from Martina Kenna to Fianna Fáil candidates while 467 went to Byrne.

Sinn Féin transfer patterns in the five Dublin constituencies it stood in give some indication as to where the party is at in the public mind.

For example, 11,129 transferable Sinn Féin votes saw a number of other candidates in and out of office. Only 8.6% of these votes went to the PDs or Fine Gael, 44.3% went to Fianna Fáil while 47.09% went to Labour, Democratic Left or other left candidates.

Sinn Féin voters' perception of Fianna Fáil as a defender of nationalists combined with its pulling power in working-class areas is clearly in evidence in these transfers, but in more than equal evidence is the left voter. Sinn Féin can attempt to chip away at the Fianna Fáil vote, based on that party's record of betrayal of both nationalists and the working class, but in Dublin at least Sinn Féin candidates tend to get eliminated before they reach the point of challenging for Fianna Fáil transfers.

That leaves Sinn Féin looking for transfers from independents and centre-left and left parties to bring it into a fighting position. In this election in Dublin, just 2,880 transfers came to Sinn Féin in this way, the bulk coming from independents, followed by the Green Party, the Socialist Party and the almost extinct Workers Party.

Transfers from the Green Party are particularly notable because it is the only party of these three which stood in all five constituencies Sinn Féin stood in and all its candidates were eliminated before Sinn Féin's. The patterns show that Green voters are reluctant Sinn Féin voters, tending to transfer to either Labour, Democratic Left or other left candidates before Sinn Féin.

While the Socialist Party (formerly Militant Labour) may have gained votes solely on the water charges issue, its performance in Dublin South West along with Clare Daly's credible 2,971 first preferences in Dublin North indicate more than Joe Higgins' win in Dublin West that voters are not afraid of the `s' word.

Sinn Féin must seek to become the first choice for voters who have in the past plumped for the type of Labour, Democratic Left and Fianna Fáil candidates who trawl working-class and unemployed areas for votes before turning their back once in power. To get the transfers necessary to tip it over the threshold beyond elimination, Sinn Féin must also persuade committed supporters of independents or smaller left parties to transfer to it before anyone else.

With an RTE exit poll showing 21% of young votes went to anti-establishment and alternative parties, Sinn Féin is well-placed to become the main choice for new voters in the capital. But new voters are tending not to vote. Only a distinct alternative to the existing establishment will change their minds. Sinn Féin may well be that alternative, but if it doesn't let them know, the electoral barometer will continue to swing between the two establishment groups in Leinster House for a very long time.


Ferris hits the post

Even though Martin Ferris in North Kerry pulled off an astonishing election by gaining 15.9% of first preferences there is disappointment among his supporters. They had set out to take a seat, against everyone's predictions. In a three-seat constituency it was always going to be a mammoth task but they almost pulled it off. It would have been a victory to really savour.

The Sinn Féin campaign was constantly monitored and interrupted by Garda Special Branch but it didn't deter the mostly young election workers.

Martin Ferris's votes came from throughout the constituency. He was first in four of the constituency's 131 ballot boxes, second in 44 of them and third in 24 of them. He was third on first preference votes, polling 5,691, but lost out on the transfers from an eliminated Fianna Fáil candidate which brought in Denis Foley (Fianna Fáil) for the third seat.

``We set up a strategy committee of six at the start of the year,'' Martin Ferris told An Phoblacht, ``and I went into every area with them and got `anchor' people who formed the basis of the campaign team. We expected to poll 3,500 to 4,000 votes but as soon as the canvass began we knew there was a real possibility of a seat.''

Drugs was a major local issue. Three suicides and three murders in the last year in Tralee are all believed to be drug-related and Ferris's anti-drugs activism was popular on the doorsteps. He is well-known and highly respected throughout Kerry and his message on Sinn Féin's peace strategy was also well-received.

Most of the Sinn Féin campaign workers and many of their voters were young people and Martin Ferris says the campaign has left a real determination to take the seat next time. The base has been laid.


Voters verdict cannot be ignored

Neil Forde analyses the massive rise in the Sinn Féin vote

Three elections in the space of five weeks and who can deny the startling proof that the shackles on Sinn Féin's development as a political force have now been broken. After years of dedicated struggle and activism Sinn Féin has knocked on the doors of establishment power and now the republican people of Ireland can no longer be denied recognition as a legitimate political grouping.

Throughout the 14 constituencies that Sinn Féin contested in last week's Leinster House elections voters turned out in hugely increased numbers to support the party. The support for Sinn Féin culminated in a 2.55% vote share gained from contesting only 14 out of 41 constituencies. Add to this a poll topping TD and strong performances in Kerry, Sligo, Cork, Louth, Meath and Dublin and you witness the fact that an increasing number of voters are supporting Sinn Féin as a viable alternative to the tired conservative, self interested elitist politics that have dominated Leinster House for decades. Last Friday 45,614 voters said no to the same old Leinster House political treadmill. Below we go through the 14 constituencies that made up the Sinn Féin vote.

Cavan Monaghan up 153%

Not only was Caoimhghín O Caoláin the poll topper and the first TD to be elected in Cavan/Monaghan, he was also the sixth highest vote winner in any of the 41 constituencies. O Caoláin won 11,531 votes, 19.37% of the total poll and a massive 11.77% higher than 1992.

Kieran Doherty was elected here in 1981 on the last count alongside Rory O'Hanlon. This time O Caoláin had the luxury of leaving the count centre after the announcement of the first count. His surplus of 1,606 votes was spread widely with 880 going to the three Fianna Fail candidates and 327 to the four Fine Gael candidates. Labour got 176, and 101 were non transferable while the rest went to the other independent candidates.

East up 304%
North Central up 172%

Overshadowed to some extent by the vote of Sinn Féin's Martin in neighbouring Kerry, the two Sinn Féin candidates in Cork Don O'Leary and Kieran McCarthy still turned in excellent performances with a massively increased vote.

Standing in Cork East, McCarthy polled 1,534 votes, 3.56% of the vote up from 366 votes in 1992.

In Cork North Central O'Leary polled 1,654 votes, 3.76% of the poll, up from 618 votes in 1992.


Donegal North East up 209%

Sinn Féin's Vice President Pat Doherty was the party candidate here in a constituency that produced one of the most remarkable results of the election, with sitting Fine Gael TD Paddy Harte losing his seat. The end result is that Donegal North East elected two Fianna Fáil and one independent Fianna Fáil representatives.

Sinn Féin polled 2,881 votes, 8.11% of the poll, a significant increase on the 819 votes polled here in 1992


Central up 78%
North East up 118%
South Central up 184%
South West up 439%
West up 80%

Sinn Féin contested five constituencies in the Dublin region and made significant advances in all of them. Christy Burke was the candidate in Dublin Central. His 2,377 votes won a 6.65% vote share for Sinn Féin. In 1992 the party polled 1,362 votes, 3.74% of the poll.

In Dublin North East Larry O'Toole doubled his 1992 performance, winning 2,212 votes, 5.93% of the poll.

Martina Kenna ran in Dublin South Central, one of the most competitive constituencies in the state. There were 21 candidates and she polled 1,937 votes, 4.77% of the poll almost trebling her 1992 vote total. John McCann almost doubled the Sinn Féin vote in Dublin West. His 2004, 5% of the poll was significantly up from the 1,.032 votes he won in 1992.

The most remarkable performance of Sinn Féin candidates In Dublin was in the South West constituency. Party candidate Seán Crowe won 8.9% of the poll with 3,725 votes, over 4 times the vote he got in 1992.

By the sixth count Crowe's vote had grown to 4,556 votes. The gap for Crowe to win a seat in this constituency next time around is a very bridgeable 2,000 votes. 

Galway West up 263%

Mike Egan was the Sinn Féin candidate in one of the most competitive constituencies in Connacht. Egan polled 1,209 votes, 2.51% of the poll which was over three times the vote he got in 1992. A strong vote in his key council ward looks good for a local authority seat.


Kerry North up 574%

The largest percentage increase of any Sinn Féin candidate was that achieved by Martin Ferris in Tralee. Ferris won a massive 5,691 votes, 15.91% of the poll, a result Dick Spring described as ``worrying''. Ferris's vote was a 574% increase in party share on 1992. That's one to save for the next pub quiz.

Louth up 107%

Sinn Féin ran two candidates in Louth, Maeve Healy, based in Drogheda and Owen Hanratty, based in Dundalk. After the first count Hanratty had polled 2,760 votes while Maeve Healy added 891 to the Sinn Féin total giving a first preference share of 3,651, 8.11% of the poll. In all the party vote was over 1,000 votes up on 1992 and more than double the percentage vote share achieved then.

The turnout was quite low (64%) and Sinn Féin will be targeting those non-voters next time. They also must reach out to areas outside the two main towns if they are to be fighting for a seat in this constituency.


Meath up 182%

Navan UDC councillor Joe Reilly recorded possibly the most rounded figure of the Sinn Féin election results. His 2,000 votes won him 3.53% of the poll. When you add in the 20 transfers Reilly won from John Bruton he was on 2020, just proof of his excellent all round vision


Sligo Leitrim up 131%

Over 7% of the poll and 3,208 votes was the excellent outcome for Sinn Féin's Seán MacManus in Sligo Leitrim. MacManus more than doubled the vote won in 1992 an opens the way for a serious challenge for more council seats in the forthcoming 26-County local elections.


Round Up

The overall Sinn Féin performance in the Leinster House elections is a remarkable result. Taken with the local and Westminster elections in the Six Counties Sinn Féin is a unique political party. They are the only party with parliamentary representatives from both the Six and the 26 Counties. They are the only party with councillors in every province of Ireland and across the 32 counties of Ireland they have 6.69% of the vote.


The big breakthrough


``Republicans are the leading advocates for change - political, constitutional, social and economic - in the Ireland of 1997. Achieving lasting peace and real change requires increased political strength for Sinn Féin. That is our task in the year ahead.''

These were the concluding words of the Political Report adopted by the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Monaghan town in April this year. Little did the delegates realise how fully that goal would be achieved - and 1997 is only just half over. In three successive elections - Westminster, Six-County local government, and now Leinster House - Sinn Féin has greatly increased its political strength. This week's breakthrough in Cavan-Monaghan is as important as the two successes in the Six Counties.

For complex historical and contemporary political reasons Sinn Féin has always been weaker in the 26 Counties than in the Six. The 1970 split out of which the present Sinn Féin emerged left the organisation relatively weak outside Ulster. Failure to engage in active electoral and community politics compounded the problem and it was not until the early 1980s that an effective political party began to be built. By then Section 31 broadcasting censorship of the Sinn Féin voice was over a decade in force and a generation had been prey to revisionism. The dropping of abstentionism with regard to Leinster House in 1986 was preceded by four years of Sinn Féin electoral growth in the Six Counties which had left the rest of the country in the shade. The general election of February 1987, the first the party contested with a policy of taking seats, was the beginning of the long haul for the party in the 26 Counties. Finally last week years of effort were rewared with the key success which was needed to open many more doors for republicanism.

No longer can the political establishment and the Dublin-based media write Sinn Féin off as irrelevant in the 26 Counties on the grounds that they have no Leinster House representation.

That the success has come after the party increased its mandate in the Six Counties to just short of 45% of the nationalist population there, emphasises the truly all-Ireland challenge which Sinn Féin represents.

These successes have dashed hopes that the British government and certain Irish political elements have had of sponsoring any pseudo-settlement brokered exclusively between the SDLP and the UUP. David Trimble's ludicrous proposal last week to `pigeon hole' decommissioning so long as Sinn Féin was excluded from the current flawed talks, just exposed the duplicitous nature of that very decommissioning issue. It has nothing to do with arms and everything to do with keeping Sinn Féin out.

The implications of Sinn Féin success for politics in the 26 Counties may be less dramatic than in the Six but they will be equally profound so long as republicans consolidate and build. On the basis of the vote received on 6 June local government representation can be increased by leaps and bounds in the next election.

The increase in the Sinn Féin vote in every constituency where it stood and the Cavan-Monaghan breakthrough, co-incided with a decline in the vote for Labour and Democratic Left. Yet again Labour feigned surprise when the inevitable occurred - the voters punished them for going into coalition with Fine Gael. As for Democratic Left their loss of two seats reduced their Leinster House representation to four and the same applies to them - their working-class voters punished them for going to bed with the Blueshirts. Their opportunism made them a mere adjunct of Labour whose rivals they once were. They can only ever get their wish and enter government again with the help of the Labour Party as no combination not including Labour will have them.

Ironically the election has seen Fine Gael lose power but increase its number of seats by seven. Labour revived Fine Gael at their own expense as they have done so often in the past. Lovers of the historical perspective may speculate on one of the great might-have-beens of Irish politics. If Labour had stuck to its 1969 pledge of staying out of Coalition (``the Seventies will be socialist'') Fine Gael might today be virtually extinct.

While the combined parties of the Rainbow (Fine Gael, Democratic Left, and Labour) failed to get a majority the people did not vote for a Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government either. The PDs were devastated with their seats cut from eight to four. Voters resented being forced to choose between either of these two camps, and resented even more the job-cutting, lone parent-bashing threats of the PDs.

The weakened PDs are now set to go into Coalition with Fianna Fáil, their bargaining power much reduced. Conscious of the danger that they may suffer even more in the next election the PDs will be jittery in government. Instability will result and Bertie Ahern would be excessively optimistic to expect a five-year term as Taoiseach.

For the first time the smug circle of power in Leinster House will be dented by the presence of Sinn Féin when TDs assemble on Thursday 26 June. This has positive implications both for the peace process and for the struggle for social and ecomomic justice in the 26 Counties. Having fought the election on a progressive platform Sinn Féin will be bringing its progresive policies inot the legislature. Already Caoimhghin O Caoláin has said that he will be a people's TD, his representation a resource for the people of his constituency and for all those seeking justice and equality.

All those who assemble on 26 June, including those who will form the new government must recognise the rights of Sinn Féin voters on both sides of the border. Only on that basis can the peace process be rebuilt. There can be no movement towards a settlement without Sinn Féin. Last week's election reinforces that.

Another new phase of struggle has begin.



I got tired of counting other people's money so I decided to do something useful for a change.

Caoimhghín O Caoláin TD explaining to a journalist why he left his job as a bank official in 1985.



Labour leader Dick Spring on the rise in Sinn Féin's vote in the 26 Counties.


When would you ever see two MPs hoisting a TD on their shoulders?

Cavan man's observation after Caoimhghín O Caoláin's election.


We have had a great responsibility placed on our shoulders but we are a party that can handle responsibility.

Caoimhghín O Caoláin speaking after his election.


Independents' Day.

Headline in the Sunday Tribune on the success of indepedents and small parties in the general election, 8 June.


The people just do not seem to like what it claims to stand for.

Matt Cooper on the PDs vote collapse, Sunday Tribune, 8 June.


A British declaration of intent to withdraw.

Independent TD Harry Blaney sets out his stall on his price for supporting any new government.


There are good things about the immediate future. I'm glad to see Sinn Féin in the Dáil.

Nuala O Faoláin column, Irish Times, Monday 9 June.


Condemnation is not going to get us anywhere. What I want to do is to work towards creating the conditions whereby there will be no violence. It is my earnest hope that nobody else has to die, but I am realistic enough to know there is a war on and it is probably inevitable that people die.

Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris on whether he condemned IRA actions after he just missed out on a Leinster House seat in Kerry North, Irish Times, Monday 9 June.


We had 25 years of slamming of doors. It is time to move forward.

Fianna Fáil's Ray Burke on Sinn Féin, UTV, Monday 9 June.


I think you are going to see a different ball-game entirely.

Gerry Adams talking about the set-up in the new Leinster House, RTÉ News, Monday 9 June.


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