Adams’ past didn’t matter as Sinn Fein resonated with working class

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and the partys Imelda Munster are held aloft outside the count centre in Dundalk after being elected representatives for Co Louth
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and the partys Imelda Munster are held aloft outside the count centre in Dundalk after being elected representatives for Co Louth

Sinn Fein was daring to dream big ahead of the Republic’s recent general election.

While the party secured a good result in the Irish poll, the spectacular sweep it was hoping for has not materialised.

However, a significant number of new Sinn Fein representatives will join their more established colleagues on the party benches when the parliament meets again on March 10.

The make-up of the new government is far from clear in the aftermath of the dramatic election, however.

The coalition partners, Fine Gael and especially the smaller Labour Party, took a severe drubbing from voters still angry in the aftermath of the economic recession.

Recounts are required in a small number of constituencies where the results remain unclear, but it is already obvious it will not be possible for Fine Gael and Labour to reach the magic number of 79 seats required for a parliamentary majority.

Sinn Fein insists it will not enter government unless it is the dominant partner, effectively ruling the party out of participation in a coalition in the short to medium term.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail, which was kicked out of power just five years ago, has staged a surprising recovery and is suddenly back in contention for government.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have been sworn rivals for decades, having been on opposite sides of the Irish Civil War in the 1920s.

Many observers point out that the two parties do not differ hugely on policy, and suggest they should pool their parliamentary seats to create a grand coalition.

This path is fraught with danger for both parties, as they both made campaign promises not to coalesce during the campaign.

Another, perhaps more palatable, option would be for Fianna Fail to support a minority Fine Gael government from the Opposition benches.

Where would this leave Sinn Fein?

Either option could benefit the party, allowing it to portray itself as the true Opposition voice in the Republic.

Sinn Fein could build on its successes in the recent election and perhaps prepare to enter government next time around.

There has been much focus on Gerry Adams’ leadership of the party in the Republic.

His repeated denials of IRA membership, combined with weak media performances, may have curbed the party’s chances of advancement in middle class areas.

However, in working class constituencies which have been largely ignored by other parties, Mr Adams’ past and poor grasp of financial detail barely registers.

People in these neglected areas have their own problems to contend with, and when Mr Adams visits he tends to be treated like something of a celebrity.

His vote-getting ability is still second to none.

In Louth, the constituency he represents, he topped the poll and even helped bring in a second Sinn Fein candidate.

Sinn Fein says it will not repeat the mistakes of the Labour Party, which has been severely punished for compromising key principles in government.

However, Sinn Fein faces a growing challenge from independents and left-wing parties, who appear to be offering a fresh message and have often proved more popular and transfer-friendly.