Irish general election: Sinn Fein wins five seats

FRFI 167 June / July 2002

The Irish general elections held on 17 May resulted in Sinn Fein increasing its seats in the Irish parliament from one to five. It gained two seats in working class districts of Dublin and two in rural areas. The results will be hailed as a major breakthrough by Sinn Fein and as a vindication of the political strategy pushed by Adams and McGuinness. That position linked the development of the peace process in the north of Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement and IRA decommissioning, with the development of Sinn Fein’s electoral strategy in the south centred around its involvement in community politics. Sinn Fein now has four MPs elected to Westminster and five TDs in Dublin, alongside its elected representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly; they are without doubt correct to label themselves as the only genuinely all-Ireland party.

Sinn Fein’s electoral success, particularly in the south, has been gained at the same rate as its anti-imperialist politics have been discarded. Its desire for respectability and embrace of social-democratic politics, highlighted by the vociferous denials that Martin Ferris had anything to do with anti-drug community activists, was made clear in Gerry Adams’ statement after the election results were declared:

‘Sinn Fein’s only interest in increasing our political strength is to utilise that strength to bring about equality, to end poverty, and factor equity and justice into the rights of citizens in their entitlements to decent jobs, a public health service, education and housing...we have no monopoly on any of these positions. They are shared by members of all the other parties, including some who will form the government.’

He then talked about mapping out ‘broad programmes of work to provide principled opposition’. The incoming Fianna Fail-led government will be intent on the increasing privatisation and selling-off of public services to the imperialist banks and multinationals, the only way to stop them will be through the mobilisation of people on the streets and in the workplaces. Respectable parliamentary politics is not a strategy that will defend the interests of the poorest sections of Irish society.

The only principled opposition for Sinn Fein would be to lead a fight against the government. This might well alienate sections of the media and the middle class, but the alternative will be to risk losing the support of the poor and disenfranchised who have given them their support, particularly in Dublin. How Sinn Fein faces up to this contradiction will determine its political future in the south of Ireland.

Bob Shephard


Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed

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