Be careful what you wish for. Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald told a Guardian podcast this week: “We should have run more candidates (in the February general election) and if I’d been in the possession of a crystal ball and could have accurately predicted… we would have had more parliamentarians, more Teachtai Dala elected.”
As it was, she got an amazingly inflated clutch of TDs, increasing the intake of elected members by 14 seats, while all other large parties, save the Greens, fell away.
Sinn Fein provided nine of the top 10 vote-winners, with Michael Healy-Rae limping into that 10th place.
It had over 45pc of the vote in Donegal, one of only two constituencies where it ran more than one candidate, both storming home in each, the other being Dublin Mid-West.
Sinn Fein now has the same number of seats as Fianna Fail – 37 apiece. Yet it ran precisely half the number of candidates as FF, 42 to 84. Another 15 seats went a-begging.
It may have been just as well. Events of this week have shown that quantity and quality are not the same thing.
And so the party of Mary Lou may actually have been spared further embarrassment than has been generated by recent events among its members.
Furthermore, such absence may ironically help its credibility as the major Government party in waiting.
At the next election, it can sweep in with whatever number of eejits it likes…
Simon Coveney spoke to this point, at least in part, when he said this week that “people need to know who Sinn Fein are when they vote for them”.
He told Claire Byrne or RTE radio that he didn’t know if Sinn Fein voters knew the party’s stance on Provo violence, although he granted that “people vote for Sinn Fein for lots of reasons”.
It was, of course, a reference to Laois-Offaly TD Brian Stanley letting the cat out of the bag (as Fine Gael sees it) by equating a War of Independence ambush with the Provisional IRA killing 18 members of the Parachute Regiment at Narrow Water in 1979.
In this worldview, the War of Independence has never ended, even if it is currently being pursued by purely political means.
Amazingly, the national broadcaster fell into the trap of aping Sinn Fein language by mentioning Mr Stanley’s references to “IRA attacks” separated by nearly 60 years, when it is the case that the phrase ‘Old IRA’ came into being to deliberately distinguish between the former undercover army of the independent state – declared by the first Dail in 1919, overwhelming elected by the people – and a paramilitary group that merely claimed inheritance.
The Provos had no truck with democracy until 1981 when elections boosted the Hunger Strike campaign.
This week Sinn Fein TD Martin Browne of Tipperary reminded many that Mr Stanley’s view – notwithstanding his apology for his ‘insensitivity’ to the living loved ones of the soldiers killed 41 years ago – is central to the party.
Sinn Fein should stop apologising for their “core beliefs”, including that the conflict in Northern Ireland was justified by British “occupation”, he said on Tipp FM.
That’s still an extremist viewpoint, even as the party has conquered, and still courts, much of the middle ground.
Extremists, given power, can ride roughshod.
Meanwhile Mr Browne’s online antics have held up the party as a laughing stock, with past Facebook posts promoting 9/11 conspiracy theories, comparisons of NATO to the Nazi SS, and blaming the US and Israel for creating IS.
Every party has its lobby fodder.
Sinn Fein also has many of the Dail’s best, brightest and most capable.
But Mary Lou might reflect that perhaps it’s just as well, after all, that she only ran one candidate in 40 constituencies.