4 November 1999 Edition
Sinn Fein now fourth largest party
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
The 8.3% of first preferences won by Sinn Féin's Aengus O Snodaigh in last week's Dublin South Central by-election confirmed that the party is now the fourth largest in the state and the only serious radical opposition to the tired status quo of the established parties.
The result, where O'Snodaigh polled 1,686 first preferences, mirrored the overall improvement in support for Sinn Féin over the past five years. In 1997, Sinn Féin polled 4.7% of first preferences in Dublin South Central and this by-election performance showed that the Sinn Féin vote has almost doubled over the last two years.
Sinn Féin's director of elections in Dublin South Central, Brian Dowling, told An Phoblacht that the by-election was a significant result for Sinn Féin because O'Snodaigh polled well throughout the constituency.
Tallies from the election count show strong support for the party in the south inner city and Crumlin-Kimmage wards. In both these areas, Sinn Féin's vote share exceeded the excellent showing in last June's local elections.
In the south city area, Sinn Féin picked up 17% of first preferences, while also winning 10% in Crumlin-Kimmage. Added to this was strong support for the party in the leafy suburbs that make up large parts of the constituency.
This by-election clearly shows that support for Sinn Féin extends well beyond the economically marginalised areas of the city. The party is clearly winning voters throughout the social spectrum.
With Dublin South Central set to be a five-member constituency for the next Leinster House election, there is no doubt that the party will be a serious contender for a seat.
Sinn Féin was one of the only parties to campaign on the national issues of the day. Most of the candidates ran campaigns that merely highlighted the clientelest nature of their politics. There was only the barest recognition of the big picture of a national politics characterised by disclosures of corruption, broken promises and inequity.
Instead, the emphasis was on what alleged work `we do for you'. It is a sad indictment for Irish politics that many of the establishment parties see the measure of a successful TD as being his or her ability to get your pavement fixed.
If there is one lesson for Sinn Féin out of this election it is the need to recognise that they are the real voice of opposition politics in Ireland today. Sinn Féin is only party offering a radical alternative to the floundering centre-right politics being peddled by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour party.
The failure of the Progressive Democrats to even run a candidate in the election is a clear indication that they have reached the end of their political journey. The wilderness now beckons for Harney and the other PDs who could do worse than follow the lead of Martin Cullen and rejoin their parent parties. There is always room for the prodigal son or daughter in Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.
There is clear support for Sinn Féin's policies on Partnership for Peace, the housing crisis, tackling the drug problem, acting on corruption, creating tax equity, using the economic boom to eradicate social injustices and finally, the pressing need to urgently formulate and implement a strategy on democratic rural development.
These are the issues on which Sinn Féin contests elections in Ireland alongside an unparalleled commitment to a lasting just peace and self-determination for the Irish people.
The Dublin South Central by election has shown that more and more voters are realising the honesty, dignity and value of the Sinn Féin message. The vote opens the door to future gains for the party throughout Dublin.
SF's ``exciting challenge'' in 26 Counties
SINN FÉIN is now poised to make its most exciting challenge in 26-County politics. This was the message as Sinn Féin councillors from throughout the 26 Counties met in Dublin last weekend to co-ordinate their work on county councils, city councils, urban district councils and town commissions. Among the group were many of the new councillors elected in the local elections in June this year.
The councillors' seminar was opened by Sinn Féin TD and Monaghan County Councillor Caoimhghín O Caoláin TD. He told his fellow elected representatives:
``Sinn Féin won 62 seats on city and county councils, urban district councils and town commissions this year. Particularly significant was our increase from 7 to 21 city and county councillors. Our gains have placed Sinn Féin in prime position to mount our most exciting and formidable challenge in 26-County politics.
``We are now the fourth largest party in this State, a position confirmed by the performance of Aengus Ó Snodaigh in the Dublin South Central by-election. Despite a very low poll, especially in our traditionally strong areas, and a completely new candidate, unknown throughout most of the constituency, we doubled our percentage of the vote and established Aengus as a contender for the fifth seat in the next general election. I take this opportunity to congratulate Aengus and his team in Dublin South Central on their performance.
``The by-election is but the latest example of the growing support for Sinn Féin, support based not only on the positive spin-off from the peace process but built up through years of hard work going back to the early 1980s. I want to pay special tribute today to our longest-serving councillors and those who have battled alone in council chambers, some of you for almost 15 years. Your efforts have ensured that many new colleagues have joined us and that the days of isolation and censorship are a rapidly receding memory.
``In the European and local government elections, we secured the support of over 200,000 voters in Ireland - 117,000 in the Six Counties and 88,000 in the 26 Counties. As I have said, this was a tremendous achievement - but we could have done better.
``There is huge potential for our party but our organisation in many parts of the 26 Counties was such that it did not have the personnel or other resources to tap into the latent support which exists. Our greatest challenge now, therefore, is to fulfill our potential. We, as elected representatives in the 26 Counties, have an absolutely central role to play in ensuring that Sinn Féin's potential is fulfilled, that our number of elected representatives at local and at Leinster House level increases, and that our party grows.''