Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein can be biggest party in Ireland north and south of border by next year, says Gerry Adams

By Liam Clarke

Sinn Fein has set itself the goal of being the largest party in both the Republic and Northern Ireland by 2016, the anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Unionists were quick to pour scorn on the idea.

"There is no chance of that happening. Before they used to say they would get a united Ireland in 2016, now it is something else. Dream on," said Diane Dodds, the DUP MEP whose husband Nigel is being challenged by Sinn Fein in North Belfast.

In a surprise move Mr Adams, now a TD for Louth, later told RTE he did not expect to be Taoiseach.

This will give rise to speculation that, if Sinn Fein succeeds in the next Irish general election, the job may go to Mary Lou McDonald, his deputy who has less baggage in that she has never been accused of IRA activity.

Sources say that Conor Murphy, the Newry and South Armagh MP, is being returned to the Assembly so that he too will be ready to take over when Martin McGuinness moves on.

The goal of ruling north and south was set out by Martin McGuinness and was endorsed in a motion in the party's Ard Fheis in Londonderry over the weekend, but unionists poured scorn on it.

"Much has been said already about the prospects of Sinn Fein emerging as the biggest party following the Dail election," Mr McGuinness said. "That is certainly our goal. But it is also our goal to become the biggest party in the north at the 2016 Assembly elections. Both those goals are achievable and the symbolism of doing so on the 100th anniversary of the Rising would be massive."

One successful motion committed Sinn Fein to opposing the presence of members of the British royal family to centenary events in the Republic next year. Another committed the party not to enter coalition with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, traditionally the main parties in the Republic.

Much of Mr Adams speech was about his aim to overtake these parties, which the polls suggest is possible, and then refusing them a place in government. The north was brought in to bolster arguments that Sinn Fein was ready for government.

He said Sinn Fein was responsible for many measures agreed by the Stormont Executive.

"In the northern Executive Sinn Fein chose not to impose water charges - this [Irish] government made a different choice. Sinn Fein invested millions in new school builds and in capital projects. We chose to protect payments to young people in education and refused to raise student fees or to impose prescription charges."

He went on "there are countless other examples of difficult but positive choices Sinn Fein in government is making, even without the necessary fiscal powers."

He pledged that in Northern Ireland issues like an Irish Language Act, a Bill of Rights and the creation on a peace centre on the Maze/Long Kesh site, "are not going away". He added: "Let us also be clear. These issues will be resolved. So too will issues of identity and contentious Orange parades."

He offered to meet the Orange Order "at any time to discuss these matters".

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