A disastrous election performance by Sinn Fein in the Republic has left the party with “no answers,” a leading nationalist commentator has said.
Giving his analysis of the massive downturn for the party in last week’s local council poll, Brian Feeney said Sinn Fein had been “slaughtered” in many areas and “practically wiped out” in others.
“They can’t explain it,” Mr Feeney said.
“On these figures they would lose half their seats in the Dail. This was a huge shock and it has upended their strategy in the Republic,” he told BBC Radio Foyle.
Sinn Fein suffered badly in council areas such as Cork – where its representation was cut in half to four councillors – and in Cavan where it lost three of its four representatives.
Overall, the party’s vote is down from 15.2% at the 2014 council elections to 9.5%. Fine Gael remains the largest party with 29.6% of the first preference votes.
Monaghan Council was one of the few exceptions to the downturn, with Sinn Fein’s six seats making the largest party, ahead of Fine Gael with five and Fianna Fáil’s four.
Sinn Fein’s vote was also down in the European Parliament election which was held alongside the council elections in the Republic.
As counting continued yesterday a number of senior Sinn Fein figures were already trying to establish what went wrong.
The party has struggled to cope with a number of internal rows in the last five years, with more than 15 councillors and other public representatives either resigning or having been expelled. Six of those who have been in dispute with the party have been re-elected as independents.
North of the border, Sinn Fein’s European candidate Martina Anderson secured the highest number of first preference votes despite a drop of almost 33,000 on her 2014 total.
Speaking yesterday, Ms Anderson said: “There is obviously a disconnection between ourselves and the voters.”
Her party colleague and fellow MEP for the Irish midlands Matt Carthy, said Sinn Fein now had to ask “really hard questions of ourselves” after a “devastating” election, and added: “We need to know what we can do better. I genuinely can’t think of anything else we could have done”.
Bryan Feeney has echoed a claim by Martina Anderson – that a large number of Sinn Fein voters in Northern Ireland gave their first preference votes to Alliance leader Naomi Long.
Mr Feeney said that “astonishing tactical voting” by Sinn Fein supporters ensured a second anti-Brexit candidate would be elected along with the “home and dry” Sinn Fein sitting MEP.
• Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has now led the party into three successive elections in which its vote has gone backwards, however, has given no indication that she is considering resigning.
Martina Anderson has given Ms McDonald her backing. She said: “I am absolutely committed to the leadership that we have. I think that Mary Lou McDonald has been fantastic.”