Sinn Féin heading for power

While it is not unusual for a Sinn Féin ard fheis to take place under an intense spotlight of publicity, the level of attention paid to the party’s weekend gathering in Athlone was enormous by any standards.

It is easy to understand the background as, by this time next year, there is every prospect that Mary Lou McDonald will not only be the first woman but also the first Sinn Féin representative to hold the office of Taoiseach.

Ms McDonald is a determined and capable figure, and, whenever the election takes place, every opinion poll for the last two years has displayed remarkable consistency in suggesting that Sinn Féin is in a clear lead.

Its popular support stands at regularly well over 30 per cent, and is so far ahead of the two parties which have dominated southern politics for generations, Fianna Fáil and Fianna Gael, that it is very likely to be the largest group in the next Dail,

Overall majorities are effectively no longer achievable so attention is starting to focus on possible coalition arrangements after all the final results are fully assessed.

The most logical outcome is a deal with Fianna Fáil which its present leader, Micheal Martin, who has made a considerable contribution to the cause of progress in Ireland, may have difficulty accepting.

He knows that a deal with Sinn Féin in which Fianna Fáil is the junior partner will deliver an administration which has long term stability, but whether he wants to be part of it is entirely another matter.

Mr Martin might accept the new realities or decide to move on, leaving his successor to negotiate a deal with Sinn Fein, who may also feel that a pact with the smaller forces including the Social Democrats, the left wing groups and independents is capable of taking shape.

Sinn Féin’s standing on both sides of the border is unrecognisable since the past days when the IRA was among those involved in decades of violence during which all the deaths were cruel, unjustified and only capable of causing misery and bitterness on an enduring scale.

We are thankfully now in a different era and Sinn Féin has a mandate which already entitles it to the First Minister’s post when Stormont returns with every prospect that, in a closely related development of historical significance, it will also take power at Leinster House.