Leading article

Sinn Féin should be judged on its mandate

The extraordinarily close finish between the three main parties in the Irish general election means that a period of intense negotiations is inevitable before the next government emerges.

Sinn Féin has a significantly increased mandate which cannot guarantee it a place in the incoming coalition but does give it every right to be considered for such a role.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as traditionally the leading southern parties now find themselves in the highly unusual position of insisting that Sinn Fein should be part of the Stormont executive but somehow disqualified from serving in its Dublin counterpart.

Critics of Sinn Féin can certainly raise a range of issues about its recent record, which like most of its rivals includes the good, the bad and the indifferent, while in other contexts compelling arguments could also be offered against allowing the DUP to hold ministerial responsibilities.

The voters have the final say and they have decided that the main responsibilities at Parliament Buildings should be shared between the DUP and Sinn Féin as by some distance the two largest groups.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have endorsed this outcome but still maintain that, more than two decades after the Good Friday Agreement, they cannot fully do business with Sinn Féin at Leinster House.

This contradiction becomes even starker when the history in which their founding figures were so closely associated with the intense violence in the period from the 1916 Easter Rising to the end of the Irish civil war in 1923 is taken into account.

Sinn Féin should have distanced itself at an earlier stage from the IRA's entirely unjustified campaign, and the party has plainly mismanaged its response to some recent cases including the appalling murder of Paul Quinn in 2007.

However, the overall legacy debate remains a complex one, involving republicans, loyalists and the forces of the state, and it should be noted that, at the height of the IRA's onslaught, constitutional parties in both the north and south of Ireland repeatedly demanded that mainstream republicans should pursue their objectives by purely democratic means.

That is the road they have plainly taken, and they now deserve to be judged on the same basis as every other group which has a significant presence in our elected institutions on both sides of the border.

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