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Sinn Fein didn't get the top seat, but put up a good show

By Liam Clarke

Sinn Fein's performance in the Presidential election was on the low end of good.

It was less than they expected, but it left a solid base on which to build in every constituency.

Their share of the first preference vote was 13.7%, compared to 9.9% in the recent general election which was, itself, an all-time high.

Sinn Fein's internal target during the contest was 20% and on the afternoon of the count Mary Lou McDonald, a Sinn Fein TD, predicted 14-18%.

Republicans had expected to do better because the conditions were so favourable.

Fianna Fail, the self-proclaimed "Republican Party" which had dominated southern politics since the foundation of the State, is in collapse.

It didn't even field a candidate, though some saw Sean Gallagher, a former member, as its proxy.

The Irish Labour Party is in government and implementing cuts.

This created an opportunity for Sinn Fein to eat into its vote but the opposite happened.

Labour topped the poll and got its man, Michael D Higgins, elected as President of Ireland for the first time in its history.

Instead Fine Gael, Labour's senior partner in government, took the hit and emerged with a derisory 6.4%.

As a party with no responsibility for the ongoing austerity measures, Sinn Fein expected to do better, so why didn't it?

It is now clear that Mr McGuinness's refusal to be open about his IRA record damaged his credibility and put a brake on the party's performance.

Voters feared a President with skeletons in the cupboard which could emerge to damage the country's reputation when he was in office.

Mr Higgins was a safer choice.

At the same time it is doubtful if any other Sinn Fein candidate could have done any better.

Mr McGuinness got Sinn Fein noticed and was a good media performer.

As he said, he electrified the campaign at the beginning, by entering the race at all, and he electrified it again at the end when he flattened the smooth-talking Mr Gallagher live on TV.

By contesting the Presidency for the first time Sinn Fein has put itself in the political mainstream but not at the top table.

Six out 10 seems a fair score. Maybe seven at a stretch.

Belfast Telegraph

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