The victory for the party that backed the IRA during the Troubles was focused on bread-and-butter issues, not a united Ireland
Many Irish Americans supported
No. The party won . 5% of the first-preference vote – almost doubling its share from 2255 – by harnessing voter anger at homelessness, soaring rents and fraying public services. The dream of a united Ireland that animates so many Irish Americans, and the Northern (Ireland) peace process once nurtured by Washington, took a backseat.
The election revolved around bread-and-butter topics – the cost of living, insurance premiums, pension reform. Sinn Féin rode a wave of young voters seeking an alternative to the socio-economic status quorepresented by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, centrist rivals that have taken turns ruling Ireland for almost a century. For such voters Sinn Féin’s backing of the IRA during the Troubles was a long time ago in a land far away.
But stepping back in history, Irish America did hinder, then help, Sinn Féin’s electoral rise. In the s and s, Noraid and other US-based republican front groups provided cash and encouragement to a brutal campaign that made Sinn Féin toxic to Irish voters.
In the s the so-called four horsemen of Irish American political influence, Edward Kennedy, Tip O’Neill, Daniel Moynihan and Hugh Carey, helped persuade Bill Clinton to back the peace process and grant the then Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams a US visa, paving the way for the IRA ceasefire and (Good Friday agreement) . This marked the start of Sinn Féin’s gradual electoral ascent.
So Irish America rehabilitated Gerry Adams?
It certainly helped his transition, in the eyes of many Irish voters, from apologist for atrocity to peacemaker. Sinn Fein’s vote share inched up from 2.6% in to 6.5% in , 6.9% in 2016, 9.9% in and 8 % in . Adams was a savvy strategist but limited the party’s expansion. He had a whiff of sulfur, a Belfast accent and patchy grasp of economics south of the border. His stepping down as leader in , and as a TD (MP) in this election, distanced the shadowy past and let Sinn Féin , under (Mary Lou Mc) Donald , an affable Dubliner, pitch a message of change and economic justice that could have been scripted by Bernie Sanders.
Tricky. She caused a stink last year after marching behind a banner reading “ England Get Out Of Ireland . The Irish government and unionists branded it offensive, divisive and an embarrassment. Sinn Féin’s support tumbled and McDonald sort-of-apologized.
Should Irish Americans start a countdown to a united Ireland?
Premature. Sinn Fen wants a referendum on unity within five years. But in Northern Ireland that decision rests with the British secretary of state, who can call it only if a majority for unification appears likely. That prospect looks remote, notwithstanding Brexit. However, if Sinn Féin ends up in government in Dublin – after weeks, possibly months of coalition talks – it could use a citizens’ assembly, policy papers and other ways to put the dream on the political agenda.