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DUP's Foster claims Sinn Fein election victory was 'protest vote' about health and housing, not Irish unity

Irish unity 'closer than ever', says McDonald

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Sinn Fein will work to form a ‘people’s government’, leader Mary Lou McDonald said (Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Fein will work to form a ‘people’s government’, leader Mary Lou McDonald said (Niall Carson/PA)

Sinn Fein will work to form a ‘people’s government’, leader Mary Lou McDonald said (Niall Carson/PA)

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said that Sinn Fein's stunning election success in the Republic of Ireland was down to a "protest vote" from young people.

Mrs Foster said the result was due to domestic issues including health and housing rather than any support for Irish unity.

Sinn Fein recorded the largest share of first preference votes (24.5%) ahead of the Republic's traditional big two parties Fianna Fail (22.2% and Fine Gael (20.9%).

While the republican party are not expected to win the most seats, they are set to play a key role in the forming of the next government in the Irish Republic.

In the wake of the victory Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said that Irish unity was now closer than ever before

Irish voters were asked as part of the exit poll if they supported a referendum on Irish unity within five years, 57% voted in favour, with 40% against.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster First Minister Mrs Foster said that she believed the next government would be formed by Fianna Fail.

The DUP leader said that Irish unity had not been a key issue in the election.

"It is a huge change, there's no doubt about it, but I think if you look at that exit poll it's very clear that people were upset about domestic issues, they were obviously very upset about the housing crisis that there is in the Republic of Ireland, the health issues that were prominent and to the fore," she said.

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First Minister Arlene Foster (Liam McBurney/PA)

First Minister Arlene Foster (Liam McBurney/PA)

"What is very clear is that Brexit, which we were told is the issue of a generation, I think was registering at 1% and even on a border poll the height of it is 57% and this is the Republic of Ireland we are talking about.

"I think we should realise that this has been about domestic policy and the fact that it was viewed that the government had failed on those issues and people wanted a change."

It appears that younger voters are going to Sinn Fein because they are looking at them as the party that gives them something different Arlene Foster

Mrs Foster admitted that young voters had not been affected by Sinn Fein's links to the IRA.

"It appears that younger voters are going to Sinn Fein because they are looking at them as the party that gives them something different than Fianna Fail or Fine Gael and that's the reason why they voted for Sinn Fein. It's a protest vote, I think we should recognise that" the First Minister said.

"It will now be up to Fianna Fail it appears to decide who they want to go into government with. Let's be clear, from a Northern Ireland perspective we will have to work with whoever the government is. We will have our own policies here in Northern Ireland of course."

Asked how she would deal with a Sinn Fein Foreign Minister Mrs Foster said that would be "jumping well ahead of ourselves".

"We will of course deal with whoever is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but we should not forget that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland is within the UK, that's why the person who comes from Dublin is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, because we are in a different jurisdiction," she said.

"When we were in a confidence and supply agreement with the last Conservative Government there was a lot of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and saying that we weren't focusing on Belfast and we weren't focusing on Northern Ireland so it'll be interesting to see whether that argument runs as well in relation to Sinn Fein."

DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Nolan Show that the election result was not an endorsement of a border poll as Sinn Fein got less than one quarter of the vote.

"One quarter of the vote is hardly a stunning endorsement of the idea their should be a border poll," the Lagan Valley MP said.

Sir Jeffrey admitted that the result could affect Northern Ireland's relationship with the Republic of Ireland, but said "I don't think this vote itself represents a demand by people in the Republic of Ireland for a border poll".

Belfast Telegraph


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Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald during the election count at the RDS in Dublin