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DUP's Peter Robinson: we must halt Sinn Fein’s all-Ireland project

By Liam Clarke

Both of Northern Ireland’s biggest political parties have claimed that Sinn Fein’s success |in the Irish general election will boost their performance in Stormont elections later this year.

Yesterday, DUP leader Peter Robinson mentioned it as he launched his candidates for the Assembly elections.

Mr Robinson conceded that Sinn Fein's Dail gains provided it with “limited opportunities for growth in Northern Ireland”, but added “there will also be a bounce for us because people will want to stop Gerry Adams in his tracks with his all-Ireland project”.

The casualties, they hope, will be the SDLP and UUP, who could suffer if voters drift to the two big parties.

Margaret Ritchie, the SDLP leader, hit back saying “if the vote in the South tells us anything, it is that people who were fed up with government voted to change it. And if that is replicated in the Assembly elections in May, then they will send a damning message to the DUP and Sinn Fein”.

During a campaign which saw Sinn Fein treble its representation and increase its share of the vote by nearly half, the issue of a united Ireland was hardly raised.

Instead, Sinn Fein focused on economic issues, hoping to garner a share of the protest vote at the collapse of the Celtic Tiger on Fianna Fail’s watch.

One Fine Gael politician said that all parties could “feast on the corpse” of Fianna Fail. Having done so, Sinn Fein has switched its focus to the Assembly elections.

We can expect plenty of nationalist rhetoric to establish Sinn Fein’s brand as the only significant all-Ireland party. In his victory speech Mr Adams predicted that republican success at the polls would lead to “the reconquest of Ireland by the people of Ireland”.

‘The Reconquest Of Ireland’ was the title of a pamphlet by James Connolly, a republican socialist leader executed after the 1916 Easter Rising.

We can expect more verbal republicanism in the Dail, where Sinn Fein now has enough seats to give it full speaking rights, between now and May 5.

Pat Doherty, a Donegal man who personifies Sinn Fein’s cross-border credentials by holding the West Tyrone Westminster seat, fired the opening shot yesterday when he cited the results as proof that “Sinn Fein was an all-Ireland and a united Ireland project”.

“Sinn Fein is now a significant political force across Ireland. Our new Dail team working directly with colleagues in the Assembly will be the driving force behind promoting and delivering the all-Ireland agenda”, he said, dismissing the SDLP as “provincial and Partitionist” by comparison.

Today, the 30th anniversary of the beginning of Bobby Sands’ hunger strike, Sinn Fein will launch the first of a series of events to mark the 1981 IRA prison protests, linking them to the party’s current electoral surge.

Sinn Fein has added quality as well as quantity to its Dail team. Mary Lou McDonald’s day has finally come in Dublin Central.

There are opportunities ahead for Sinn Fein, but there is also a downside to being an all-Ireland party if you have to impose cuts in Stormont while denouncing them in the Dail.

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