19 March 1998 Edition

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SF vote rises in Dublin North and Limerick


Sinn Féin's Paul Donnelly polled a very creditable 1,088 first preferences or 3.29% of the vote in the Dublin North by-election last week. Donnelly's vote was double that of one of the coalition partners' candidates, Finian Fallon of the Progressive Democrats, and was over four times that of Democratic Left, which has four sitting TDs. Donnelly was just five votes behind Paul Martin of the Green Party who polled 1,092 first preferences.

The Dublin North result was received with great enthusiasm by Sinn Féin election workers in what has been up to now a very weak area for the party in Dublin. Before last Wednesday Sinn Féin had not contested an election in Dublin North since 1991 when Martha Ellis received 411 votes or 0.9% of the vote. Last week's result marked a 2.4% increase in Sinn Féin's share of the vote in the constituency and election workers took encouragement from the fact that the Sinn Féin vote was very evenly spread across the constituency.

The seat left vacant by former Foreign Affairs Minister Ray Burke was easily won by Labour's Seán Ryan whose victory was clear from early on, with tallymen predicting the result after the first twenty boxes had been opened. A Labour Party veteran, Ryan has been a councillor, senator and a TD and lost his seat to Fianna Fáil's GV Wright at the last General Election.

The Limerick East by-election also saw a good result for Sinn Féin. Again, the constituency had not been contested by the party since 1992. Jenny Shapland received 2.13% of the vote, an increase of 1.28%. The organisation in Limerick City has been revitalised by the campign and the improved performance. Party President Gerry Adams was well received in the area during the course of the campaign and his presence in Limerick generated much local interest.

Both the Progressive Democrats and Democratic Left have now reached the stage where their only reason for continuing to exist as parties is to ensure that, when they are able to make up the numbers with larger parties to form coalitions, their TDs are guaranteed seats in the cabinet. Can anyone point to real ideological differences between the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil? And can anyone pinpoint the ideas that separate Labour and Democratic Left? So why don't the smaller parties merge with the bigger?

It's simply because as members of parties their TDs have more to gain. In the meantime both PDs and DL face the dilemma of shrinking parties and shrinking votes. They are essentially TDs without parties. Where they do not have a high profile local candidate their core party vote is negligible. The Dublin North by-election result showed that. This can only go on for so long and eventually it will come down to the question of survival of the individual TDs. They have already started on the slippery slope.

Meanwhile the Sinn Féin vote continues to grow in the 26 Counties, even in areas which have been relatively weak for the party in recent years. Increasingly the party is attracting young and first-time voters and its political message is being heard by more and more people. There is a definite feeling among Sinn Féin activists that with steady work Sinn Féin will prove to be the party of the future.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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