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Sinn Féin vindicated by unprecedented surge

Of all the strategic tactics Sinn Féin has employed over the years forcing last Thursday's snap election must rank among the shrewdest. In November, relations between Stormont's big two appeared good, with a joint platform from Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness in this newspaper and others talking about how they were getting down to the business of government. But after the smouldering RHI scandal flared up in early December the atmosphere suddenly soured.

Sinn Féin initially sought to help the DUP negotiate the crisis but as the narrative switched from incompetence to allegations of corruption and the opposition parties turned up the heat, republicans changed tack. RHI may not have been the reason for calling the election but the fallout around the scandal provided the opportunity to exploit a rare occasion of DUP weakness.

The DUP's intransigence was Sinn Féin's broad target, while on the ground in West Belfast and Foyle, where last May People Before Profit made inroads, the latter's support for Brexit was highlighted.

However, it was the DUP's official campaign launch that arguably provided the most significant impetus for Sinn Féin's electoral surge when MrsFoster likened her former partners in government to a crocodile with an insatiable appetite.

The remarks about the desire for an Irish language act appear to have been taken personally by the republican electorate, who exacted their revenge more than three weeks later by mobilising in numbers unprecedented since the Good Friday Agreement. It's thought significant numbers of young people turned out to register their anger at the ballot box.

On the back of increased turnout, the party secured 27 seats, maintaining its numbers at Stormont in spite of the reduction of assembly seats. Its 224,245 first preference votes represented a 27.9 per cent share, an increase of 3.9 percentage points on last May's result.

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Seats: 27 (no change)

First preference votes: 224,245

Share of vote: 27.9 per cent up 3.9 percentage points

Verdict: Best ever election

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