Assembly Election

Sinn Fein election pledge to root out corruption secured party winning seats

Sinn Fein Assembly leader Michelle O'Neill at St Patrick's Primary School polling station, Clone Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland after casting her vote. Picture By: Arthur Allison. Pacemaker.
Michael McHugh, Press Assocation

SINN Fein's election mantra was rooting out corruption and it has netted the party a seats bonanza.

Turn out was the highest for an Assembly poll since the year the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement largely ended violence.

Gerry Adams characterised it as a vote for a united Ireland and a vote to remain in the EU.

But more normal political concerns over a botched green energy scheme which is set to cost the taxpayer almost half a million pounds as well as what republicans termed a lack of respect from unionists around the thwarted Irish Language Act helped mobilise an electoral army.

The voting surge for a party led by a new northern leader with no IRA convictions stretched from the rural villages of the west to the mural-bedecked streets of west Belfast where the messages called for a language act now.

In the city Sinn Fein completed the eclipse of rival nationalists the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in what was once the political den of campaigning civil rights protester Lord Gerry Fitt.

The SDLP's vanquished negotiator Alex Attwood was once known as a "political Lazarus" for his ability to squeeze electoral victories but he acknowledged the rising turn out had come from the doorsteps of their darker-green tinged Sinn Fein supporters and it swept him away.

The highest profile scalp of this republican Tour de Force was the Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt.

The once all-powerful unionist party has endured a long period in relative political wilderness and on Friday its deputy leader Danny Kennedy in Co Armagh succumbed to the river of Sinn Fein support and saw the Democratic Unionists likely to remain the largest party.

The UUP look to be heading for its worst ever set of results.

Former UUP leader Lord Reg Empey, who has also tasted the bitter fruit of resignation after a tipping point election, blamed the lack of time for Mr Nesbitt's post-sectarian brand of politics to bed in before the collapse of the Assembly.

The reduction in the number of seats at the Assembly from 108 to 90 also helped defeat established representatives including former ministers from the DUP Lord Maurice Morrow and Nelson McCausland.

But the DUP has largely held its own this election despite what insiders claimed was a smear campaign designed to demonise their leader Arlene Foster.

Mrs Foster resisted calls for her to stand aside while the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal was investigated and that prompted Sinn Fein to collapse the institutions.

But her independence of spirit gives little indication of how a breakthrough will be achieved once talks on piecing together power-sharing begin.

By then direct rule from ministers in London will probably have been implemented. The Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has little other choice aside ordering a new £5 million election.

If Mr Nesbitt's experiment with cross-party post-sectarian politics proved a step too far for many of his supporters the long-standing centralist Alliance Party held its own and its leader Naomi Long was one of the first to be elected - topping the poll in staunchly unionist East Belfast.

With months of revelations about the failed heating scheme on the cards once a public inquiry begins work targeting corruption may prove easier than rebuilding the shattered relations and resurrecting power-sharing.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Assembly Election