SF resumes march towards strength on both sides of border

Morning View
Morning View

After what seemed to be an easily understood set of results for the new supercouncils, yesterday’s Euro poll made the overall picture more complicated.

The clearest pattern to emerge from the elections in the Province, and in the Republic, is that the Sinn Fein march to strength on both sides of the border by the 2016 Easter Rising centenary is back on track. The party now is now biggest in terms of councillors across the island for the first time since 1918.

Last week’s Sinn Fein successes will be dismaying to unionists, who took solace from the party’s unexpectedly poor showing the Dail elections of 2007, and then Martin McGuinness’s relatively weak showing in the 2011 Irish presidential election.

It seemed during those years that the Republic, to its credit, was remaining wary of Sinn Fein. Their failure to break through south of the border reminded unionists that voters in the Republic had repudiated the IRA’s political wing during the Troubles.

But now, it seems, a younger generation of nationalists on both sides of the border is inclined to romanticise Sinn Fein. This exacerbates a grave problem for those people in Northern Ireland who remember that Britain prevented a civil war in the Province after 1969, but who now have to battle against the rapid nationalist rewrite of history that depicts the British as the terrorists.

Unionists can take comfort from the increase in the unionist share of the vote compared to nationalists. This does not mean that unionists no longer face a demographic threat to their majority, but it does suggest a nationalist majority is still distant.

Each unionist party can take some comfort from the various results, except NI21, which imploded, and the Tories, who struggle to connect with the now dominant regional Northern Ireland politics and identity.

Meanwhile, the success of Ukip here, and the Euroscepticism of most unionist candidates, shows that wariness about the EU is a significant sentiment in Northern Ireland.