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The rise and rise of Sinn Féín

ALL over the country, Sinn Féin’s vote has been growing for years but it was last weekend that the party really started to see results in the Banner County.

Perhaps the biggest result of the weekend was Mike McKee’s victory in the Shannon Electoral Area, giving the party its first seat on Clare County Council since PJ Burke triumphed in West Clare in 1974.

Patricia McCarthy, who bowed out of the Shannon political scene at this campaign, said she wasn’t overly surprised with the McKee triumph. “Once I saw the way Sinn Féin were going nationwide and the way the polls were going, I had pencilled him in as a possibility.”

She felt McKee would get a sizeable amount of number ones due to his years on Shannon Town Council. However, he exceeded her expectations and she hadn’t realised he would draw support from around the municipal district.

“I initially thought he might have between 500 and 600 votes that was based on his experience as a town councillor and being known. He obviously got the extra bounce then to bring him over the 700, with the increase in the Sinn Féin percentage. Then it was a matter of whether he would be transfer-friendly and it turned out he was transfer-friendly right across the board.”

Although her leanings are to the left and she speaks warmly about Mike McKee, she says she won’t forget Sinn Féin’s links to the IRA violence of the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

“I’m one of those people who can’t move on from it, I just can’t; I’m finding it very difficult. Having said that, I’m aware there are people in Sinn Féнn who have no association with that past. Sinn Féin is attracting new, young, vibrant candidates, they are selling their message well and they have a discipline in their party that is comparable to none and I think that all stands to them. Anybody you hear speaking on behalf of Sinn Féin, they’re all saying the same thing, there’s no deviation from their message. If you look at the Labour party, there’s voices coming from the grassroots complaining.”

Speaking this week after his election, Mr McKee, who has been a member of Sinn Féin since the 1970s, said the party has been on a long political journey and that more success is very achievable.

“Young, intelligent people are joining Sinn Féin more than any other party and the future is looking very, very bright.”

While the party has been on the rise around Ireland for years now, it had not made that much progress in Clare up until now, he acknowledged.

“It has been so difficult to make a breakthrough in Clare; for some reason it has bucked the trend nationwide. That’s why we’re so happy to have at least one seat here. The one seat that we have should encourage other people to join with us and work with Sinn Féin in County Clare. We believe it’s the breakthrough we needed to grow the party at a much faster rate, on a par with the way it has been growing nationally.”

While McKee triumphed, there was also a fantastic performance by Noeleen Moran, who got more than 1,000 first preferences in West Clare in her first campaign.

Noeleen Moran of Sinn Fein who was eliminated following count 9 during the election count at The West county Hotel, Ennis. Photograph by John Kelly.
Noeleen Moran of Sinn Fein who was eliminated following count 9 during the election count at The West county Hotel, Ennis. Photograph by John Kelly.

Although she didn’t pick up a seat, Mr McKee identified her as a potential Sinn Féin candidate in the next general election, while Ms Moran has indicated she may be interested in running.

The only bum note was the departure of Cathal O’Reilly from the party on the eve of the election, due to anti-Traveller remarks he had made on social media.

Reflecting on a successful campaign Sinn Féin county PRO, Finbarr MacGabhann, said it reflected the work put in by the party over a period of time.

“The bounce that comes nationally wouldn’t be reflected if the work isn’t done on the ground and we have done the work. It also has to do with the quality of the candidates. Mike McKee is very experienced and Noeleen is a very, very nice person, extremely personable. The other thing is she’s a reluctant politician, she’s not a career politician. She’s the age of people who are having to emigrate, she has seen the effect of Government policy on her own community, her own friends, everybody around her and she didn’t want it for the people of Clare. And that was how she came across.”

He also feels Ms Moran could run for the Dбil in the coming years and was very impressed by the campaign she ran.

“The West Clare district was 48% of the landmass of the county and because of the amount of work she had to put in, we were very impressed with the returns that she was getting. She was being very, very well received, even down in the south of the county, even though she’s from the north of the constituency.”

While Sinn Féin was once almost solely associated with fighting partition, it is now closely associated with far left aspirations and he says there are two strings to its bow.

“It’s a combination. We can’t reunite Ireland unless we deal with the social issues that are currently affecting people’s lives and there’s no point in uniting Ireland unless that unity is used to better the lives of the ordinary people, the two go hand in hand, Republicanism and socialism, two halves of the one coin.”

Owen Ryan

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