By New Worker correspondent
ONLY five weeks ago, “sinister forces” were at work to stem Sinn Féin’s steady electoral advances in both parts of Ireland, when Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams was arrested under the terrorism act and questioned for four days in the midst of the local and Euro election campaigns.
Yet, as newly elected County Mayo Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway Walsh told a packed meeting of supporters at Westminster last week, the party made stunning gains in both the north and the south last month. The crude tactics of the forces opposed to the peace process had spectacularly backfired.
In the European elections Martina Anderson topped the poll in the North with 25.5 per cent of votes to take one of three seats, ahead of the DUP’s Diane Dodds on 20.9 per cent, while in the South Sinn Féin came second behind Fine Gael, taking three Euro seats.
Sinn Féin took third place in the Republic’s local elections, doubling its vote share to 15.2 per cent and winning 159 council seats, 105 more than in 2009, and pushing a broken Labour Party into fourth place.
In the north Sinn Féin’s vote fell slightly and the party won 10 fewer council seats than in 2010, but still took second place with 105 seats.
The party made gains in both working class and middle class districts in Dublin, and captured almost a third of votes in Monaghan and Louth. It appears to be on track to join a coalition government in Dublin after the 2016 general election, as many are predicting.
Gerry Adams declared: “The people have spoken and given the (Dublin) government notice to quit.”
Conway Walsh said: “Opinion polls show that many voted Sinn Féin because of our positive economic policies, with a strategy of investment, growth and better public services as the alternative to years of austerity, emigration and hardship.”
Asking: “Why a government which did so well in 2009 did so badly in 2014?” she said this was clearly due to the Republic’s dire economic situation. “Emigration and homelessness are increasing; €2 billion will be cut from this year’s budget and the same in 2015, 16 and 17; pensions are under attack; new charges for water and property are in place; there are 183,000 long-term unemployed, and 26 per cent of our young people are out of work.
“Despite the €64 billion given away to the banks, leaving a huge hole in country’s finances, the banking sector is still in a fragile state and promises of re-capitalisation have not been realised, while multinationals such as Apple and Shell are paying virtually no tax at all in the Republic.”
Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh and the party’s economy spokesperson, spoke of the long list of issues arising from the Good Friday Agreement yet to be resolved or implemented: equalities, the Irish language, the Anglo-Irish institutions, a Bill of Rights in the North (guaranteed by all the GFA signatories), flags and parades, inquiries and inquests, and the recent British government U-turn on an inquiry into the state killing of Pat Finucane.
He said: “The unionist parties are incapable of negotiating in the run-up to elections or the summer marching period, leaving only a few weeks a year for any serious talks.
“Meanwhile both Dublin and London – especially the current British government – are failing to engage, removing the only really effective pressure on the unionist parties.”
Murphy said the unionists had sabotaged and then walked away from the last set-piece talks, chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass, and while Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the Dublin government had endorsed Haas’s proposals, neither the British government nor the Labour Party had followed suit.
He also said Sinn Féin was “almost alone” in its strong opposition the coalition’s attack on benefits in the North. “The SDLP are effective cheerleaders for austerity, and there is a lack of support for Sinn Féin’s position both on the left in Britain and in the North, including from the trade unions.”
When one member of the audience noted that the elections in France and Germany had gained far more British media attention than those in Ireland, Conway-Walsh responded: “If Sinn Féin had done badly, you would have seen a lot more coverage.”