Sinn Fein’s performance in the South’s presidential election – third place with just 8 per cent of the vote, according to early forecasts – has to be a huge disappointment for the party and its new leader Mary Lou McDonald.
Eight per cent is well below the party’s standing in the most recent general election-style opinion polls and its most recent performances in actual polls. It is, decidely, a setback for SF and a discouraging beginning for the party’s new leadership.
A couple of difficult questions now face Mary Lou and her advisers. Was the vote a comment on Sinn Fein under Mary Lou’s stewardship, i.e. not under Gerry Adams’? Or was the choice of candidate – Liadh na Riada – a particularly unimpressive one? And what does that choice say about Mary Lou’s judgement?
Na Riada could be seen as the anti-McGuinness candidate, free of the whiff of the battlefield that the former IRA Northern Commander/Chief of Staff, exuded. Her suggestion that she would happily wear a poppy was something McGuinness might have hesitated before endorsing.
But McGuinness, admittedly a better known runner, did appreciably better than na Riada – 13.7% compared to eight (The Guardian was suggesting last night that her final result could be as low as 7.4 per cent). What does that say about the oft-touted wisdom that the IRA is a weight that drags the party down?
Given the low turnout and Michael D’s easy triumph, perhaps Mary Lou would have been wiser giving this election a miss. As it has turned out the result has raised uncomfortable questions about her stewardship of the party that Gerry made.