Andrew McQuillan

Is Sinn Fein really on the march?

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (Credit: Getty images)

In the visceral two horse race which is Northern Irish politics, it is the green horse which is out in front after last Thursday’s local council elections. 

Sinn Fein, as at Stormont, is now the largest party across Northern Ireland’s local authorities. A lot has changed since the 1980s, when, during the IRA’s campaign of murder and mutilation across the Province, unionists would walk out of council meetings rather than sit with Sinn Fein councillors. 

The stain of terrorism which will forever be part of Sinn Fein does not seem to be a deterrent to the nationalist electorate in Northern Ireland. Many will say that Sinn Fein is a political party that people are entitled to vote for, but their continuing hegemony does speak uncomfortable truths about the values and priorities of members of the communities which support them. 

Sinn Fein, as at Stormont, is now the largest party across Northern Ireland’s local authorities

Sinn Fein’s comprehensive cannibalisation of the SDLP – the party of John Hume is now led by a poor imitation in the shape of serial loser Colum Eastwood – is proof of nationalism’s inherent thirst for the stronger stuff. Who wants fluffy, social democratic language about baby steps towards an Ireland of equals when you can have the full-fat alternative? 

Nationalists of all hues believe in the inexorable march of destiny towards their ambitions and Irish nationalists are no different. Sinn Fein and their cheerleaders will bandy these results around as proof that the so-called promised land is on the horizon. 

However, simply winning more in an area you’re already popular is hardly transformational in the long run. Sinn Fein winning round an SDLP voter – presumably already convinced of the merits of a border poll and all that entails – is not going to turbocharge the pursuit for a united Ireland.

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