Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Secretary-General Dawn Doyle
Founder Arthur Griffith
President Gerry Adams TD
Vice President Mary Lou McDonald TD
Assembly Group Leader Raymond McCartney MLA
Slogan "Building an Ireland of Equals"
Founded Original 1905
Current 1970
Headquarters 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1, Ireland
Newspaper An Phoblacht
Youth wing Ógra Shinn Féin
Ideology Irish republicanism
Irish reunification
Democratic socialism
Left-wing nationalism
Political position Left-wing
European Parliament Group European United Left–Nordic Green Left
Official colours Green
Dáil Éireann
14 / 166
Seanad Éireann
3 / 60
Northern Irish seats in House of Commons
5 / 18
European Parliament (Northern Ireland)
1 / 3
Northern Ireland Assembly
29 / 108
Local government in Northern Ireland
138 / 582
Local government in the Republic of Ireland
127 / 1,627
Politics of the Republic of Ireland
Political parties
Politics of Northern Ireland
Political parties

Sinn Féin (English pronunciation: /ˌʃɪnˈfeɪn/, shin-fain, Irish: [ʃɪnʲ fʲeːnʲ]) is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves",[3][4] although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone".[5] Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970 after a split within the party. Sinn Féin is led by Gerry Adams. The party has historically been associated with the Provisional IRA.[6]

Sinn Féin is currently the second-largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, where it has four ministerial posts in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive and these include the departments of OFMDFM, Culture, Arts and Leisure, Agriculture and Rural Development and Education as well as the Junior Minister post. It is the fourth largest party in Dáil Éireann, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland, where it has 14 TDs. In the 2009 European Parliamentary elections the party's candidate in Northern Ireland, Bairbre de Brún, topped the poll, the first time for Sinn Féin in any Northern Ireland election. Sinn Féin also received the most votes of any party in Northern Ireland in the 2010 United Kingdom General Election, although the Democratic Unionist Party won more seats.

Sinn Féin won 178,224 votes in the Northern Ireland Assembly election, 2011 giving them 29 MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly, making them the second largest political party in Northern Ireland. It is the third largest political party across the island of Ireland with a popular vote of 398,915, combining the Irish general election, 2011 in the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Assembly election, 2011 in Northern Ireland.




The campaign car of Joseph McGuinness, who won the 1917 South Longford by-election whilst imprisoned. He was one of the first Sinn Féin members to be elected. In 1921 he sided with Collins in the Treaty debate.

Sinn Féin was founded on 28 November 1905, when, at the first annual Convention of the National Council, Arthur Griffith outlined the Sinn Féin policy.[4] That policy was "to establish in Ireland's capital a national legislature endowed with the moral authority of the Irish nation".[7] Sinn Féin contested the Leitrim North by-election of 1908 and secured 27% of the vote.[8] Thereafter, both support and membership fell. At the 1910 Ard Fheis (party conference) the attendance was poor and there was difficulty finding members willing to take seats on the executive.[9]

In 1914, Sinn Féin members, including Griffith, joined the anti-Redmond Irish Volunteers, which was referred to by Redmondites and others as the "Sinn Féin Volunteers". Although Griffith himself did not take part in the Easter Rising of 1916, many Sinn Féin members, who were also members of both the Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, did. Government and newspapers dubbed the Rising "the Sinn Féin Rising".[10] After the Rising, republicans came together under the banner of Sinn Féin, and at the 1917 Ard Fheis the party committed itself for the first time to the establishment of an Irish Republic. In the 1918 general election, Sinn Féin won 73 of Ireland's 105 seats, and in January 1919, its MPs assembled in Dublin and proclaimed themselves Dáil Éireann, the parliament of Ireland. The party supported the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence, and members of the Dáil government negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty with the British Government in 1921. In the Dáil debates that followed, the party divided on the Treaty. Anti-Treaty members led by Éamon de Valera walked out, and pro- and anti-Treaty members took opposite sides in the ensuing Civil War.[citation needed]

Pro-Treaty Dáil deputies and other Treaty supporters formed a new party, Cumann na nGaedheal, on 27 April 1923 at a meeting in Dublin where delegates agreed a constitution and political programme.[11] Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin members continued to boycott the Dáil. At a special Ard Fheis in March 1926 de Valera proposed that elected members be allowed to take their seats in the Dáil if and when the controversial oath of allegiance was removed. When his motion was defeated, de Valera resigned from Sinn Féin and on 16 May 1926 founded his own party, Fianna Fáil—taking most Sinn Féin deputies with him.[12] With the success of Fianna Fáil, support for Sinn Féin fell to pre-1916 levels.[13] An attempt in the 1940s to access funds which had been put in the care of the High Court led to the Sinn Féin Funds Case, which the party lost and in which the judge ruled that it was not the direct successor of the Sinn Féin of 1917.[14] At the Westminister 1959 general election, the Sinn Féin vote dropped almost 60% from the 1955 number of 152,000 to 63,000.[15] In the 1960s, Sinn Féin moved to the left. It became involved in campaigns over the provision of housing and social services during the sixties. It also adopted a "National Liberation Strategy" which was the brainchild of Roy Johnston. In 1967 the Garland commission was set up to investigate the possibility of ending abstentionism. Its report angered many within the party, notably Seán Mac Stíofáin and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh.[16]


The Sinn Féin party split in two at the beginning of 1970. At the party's Ard Fheis on 11 January the proposal to end abstentionism and take seats, if elected, in the Dáil, the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the Parliament of the United Kingdom was put before the members.[17] A similar motion had been adopted at an IRA convention the previous month, leading to the formation of a Provisional Army Council by Mac Stíofáin and other members opposed to the leadership. When the motion was put to the Ard Fheis, it failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority. The Executive attempted to circumvent this by introducing a motion in support of IRA policy, at which point the dissenting delegates walked out of the meeting. These members reconvened at another place, appointed a Caretaker Executive and pledged allegiance to the Provisional Army Council. The Caretaker Executive declared itself opposed to the ending of abstentionism, the drift towards "extreme forms of socialism", the failure of the leadership to defend the nationalist people of Belfast during the 1969 Northern Ireland riots, and the expulsion of traditional republicans by the leadership during the 1960s.[18] At the October 1970 Ard Fheis delegates were informed that an IRA convention had been held and had regularised its structure, bringing to an end the 'provisional' period.[19] By then, however, the label "Provisional" or "Provo" was already being applied to them by the media.[20] The opposing, anti-abstentionist party became known as Official Sinn Féin.[21]

Initially, because the "Provisionals" were committed to military rather than political action, Sinn Féin's membership was largely confined, in Danny Morrison's words, to people "over military age or women". A Belfast Sinn Féin organiser of the time described the party's role as "agitation and publicity".[22] New cumainn (branches) were established in Belfast, and a new newspaper, Republican News, was published.[23] Sinn Féin took off as a protest movement after the introduction of internment in August 1971, organising marches and pickets.[24] The party launched its platform, Éire Nua (a New Ireland) at the 1971 Ard Fheis.[25] In general, however, the party lacked a distinct political philosophy. In the words of Brian Feeney, "Ó Brádaigh would use Sinn Féin ard fheiseanna to announce republican policy, which was, in effect, IRA policy, namely that Britain should leave the North or the 'war' would continue".[26] Sinn Féin was given a concrete presence in the community when the IRA declared a ceasefire in 1975. 'Incident centres' were set up to communicate potential confrontations to the British authorities. They were manned by Sinn Féin, which had been legalised the year before by Secretary of State, Merlyn Rees.[27]

After the ending of the truce another issue arose—that of political status for prisoners. Rees released the last of the internees but introduced the Diplock courts, and ended 'special category status' for all prisoners convicted after 1 March 1976. This led first to the blanket protest, and then to the dirty protest .[28] Around the same time, Gerry Adams began writing for Republican News, calling for Sinn Féin to become more involved politically .[29] The prisoners' protest climaxed with the 1981 hunger strike, during which striker Bobby Sands was elected Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and South Tyrone as an Anti H-Block candidate. After his death on hunger strike, his seat was held, with an increased vote, by his election agent, Owen Carron. These successes convinced republicans that they should contest every election.[30] Danny Morrison expressed the mood at the 1981 Ard Fheis when he said:

"Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?".[31]

This was the origin of what became known as the Armalite and ballot box strategy. Éire Nua was dropped in 1982, and the following year Ó Brádaigh stepped down as leader, to be replaced by Adams.[32]

1983 to present

Under Adams' leadership electoral politics became increasingly important. In 1983 Alex Maskey was elected to Belfast City Council, the first Sinn Féin member to sit on that body.[33] Sinn Féin polled over 100,000 votes in the Westminster elections that year, with Adams winning the West Belfast seat previously held by the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).[33] By 1985 it had fifty-nine seats on seventeen of the twenty-six Northern Ireland councils, including seven on Belfast City Council.[34]

The party began a reappraisal of the policy of abstention from the Dáil. At the 1983 Ard Fheis the constitution was amended to remove the ban on the discussion of abstentionism, so as to allow Sinn Féin to run a candidate in the forthcoming European elections, although in his address Adams said, "We are an abstentionist party. It is not my intention to advocate change in this situation."[35] A motion to permit entry into the Dáil was allowed at the 1985 Ard Fheis, but without the active support of the leadership, and Adams did not speak. The motion failed narrowly.[36] By October of the following year an IRA Convention had indicated its support for elected Sinn Féin Teachtaí Dála (TDs) taking their seats. Thus, when the motion to end abstention was put to the Ard Fheis on 1 November 1986, it was clear that there would not be a split in the IRA as there had been in 1970.[37] The motion was passed with a two-thirds majority. Ó Brádaigh and about twenty other delegates walked out, and met in a Dublin hotel to form a new party, Republican Sinn Féin.[38]

Multi-party negotiations began in 1994 in Northern Ireland, without Sinn Féin. The Provisional IRA declared a ceasefire in the autumn of 1994. The Conservative government had asked that the IRA decommission all of their weapons before Sinn Féin be admitted to the talks, but the Labour government of Tony Blair let them in on the basis of the ceasefire.[39]

The talks led to the Good Friday Agreement of 10 April 1998 (officially known as the Belfast Agreement), which set up an inclusive devolved government in the North, and altered the Southern government's constitutional claim to the whole island in Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution of Ireland.

The party expelled Denis Donaldson, a party official, in December 2005, with him stating publicly that he had been in the employ of the British government as an agent since the 1980s. Mr Donaldson told reporters that the British security agencies who employed him were behind the collapse of the Assembly and set up Sinn Féin to take the blame for it, a claim disputed by the British Government.[40] Donaldson was found fatally shot in his home in County Donegal on 4 April 2006, and a murder inquiry was launched.[41] In April 2009, the Real IRA released a statement taking responsibility for the killing.

When Sinn Féin and the DUP became the largest parties, it was clear that no deal could be made without the support of both parties. They nearly reached a deal in November 2004, but the DUP had a requirement for visible evidence that decommissioning had been carried out.[42]

On 2 September 2006 Martin McGuinness publicly stated that Sinn Féin would refuse to participate in a shadow assembly at Stormont, asserting that his party would only take part in negotiations that were aimed at restoring a power-sharing government within Northern Ireland. This development follows a decision on the part of members of Sinn Féin to refrain from participating in debates since the Assembly's recall this past May. The relevant parties to these talks were given a deadline of 24 November 2006 in order to decide upon whether or not they would ultimately form the executive.[43]

The 86 year Sinn Féin boycott of policing in Northern Ireland ended on 28 January 2007 when the Ard Fheis voted overwhelmingly to support the PSNI.[44] Sinn Féin members will sit on Policing Boards and District Policing Partnerships.[45] There has been some opposition to this decision from people such as former IRA prisoner Gerry McGeough, who stood in the 2007 Assembly Elections against Sinn Féin in the assembly constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone.[46]

Parties with origins in Sinn Féin

Links with the IRA

Sinn Féin is the largest group in the Republican wing of Irish nationalism and is closely associated with the IRA, with the Irish Government alleging that senior members of Sinn Féin have held posts on the IRA Army Council.[47] However, the SF leadership has denied these claims.[48]

A republican document of the early 1980s states, "Both Sinn Féin and the IRA play different but converging roles in the war of national liberation. The Irish Republican Army wages an armed campaign... Sinn Féin maintains the propaganda war and is the public and political voice of the movement".[49]

Sinn Féin organiser Danny Morrison at the party's Ard Fheis (Annual Conference) in 1981, said:

"Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?"[31]

The British Government stated in 2005 that "we had always said all the way through we believed that Sinn Féin and the IRA were inextricably linked and that had obvious implications at leadership level".[50]

The robbery of £26.5 million from the Northern Bank in Belfast in December 2004 further scuppered chances of a deal. The IRA were blamed for the robbery[51] though Sinn Féin denied this and stated that party officials had not known of the robbery nor sanctioned it.[52] Because of the timing of the robbery, it is considered that the plans for the robbery must have been laid whilst Sinn Féin was engaged in talks about a possible peace settlement. This undermined confidence within the unionist community about the sincerity of republicans towards reaching agreement. In the aftermath of the row over the robbery, a further controversy erupted when, on RTÉ's Questions and Answers programme, the chairman of Sinn Féin, Mitchel McLaughlin, insisted that the IRA's controversial killing of a mother of ten young children, Jean McConville, in the early 1970s though "wrong", was not a crime, as it had taken place in the context of the political conflict. Politicians from the Republic, along with the Irish media strongly attacked McLaughlin's comments.[53][54]

On 10 February 2005, the government-appointed Independent Monitoring Commission reported that it firmly supported the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Garda assessments that the IRA was responsible for the Northern Bank robbery and that certain senior members of Sinn Féin were also senior members of the IRA and would have had knowledge of and given approval to the carrying out of the robbery.[55] Sinn Féin have argued that the IMC is not independent and the inclusion of former Alliance Party Leader John Alderdice and a British security head was proof of this.[56] The IMC recommended further financial sanctions against Sinn Féin members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The British government responded by saying it would ask MPs to vote to withdraw the parliamentary allowances of the four Sinn Féin MPs elected in 2001.[57]

Gerry Adams responded to the IMC report by challenging the Irish Government to have him arrested for IRA membership, a crime in both jurisdictions, and conspiracy.[58]

On 20 February 2005, Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell publicly accused three of the Sinn Féin leadership, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Martin Ferris (TD for Kerry North) of being on the seven-man IRA Army Council which they later denied.[59][60]

On 27 February 2005, a demonstration against the murder of Robert McCartney on 30 January 2005 was held in East Belfast. Alex Maskey, a former Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast, was told by relatives of McCartney to demand that Maskey "hand over the 12" IRA members involved.[61] The McCartney family, though formerly Sinn Féin voters themselves, urged witnesses to the crime to contact the PSNI.[62][63] Three IRA men were expelled from the organisation, and a man was charged with McCartney's murder.[64][65]

Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern subsequently called Sinn Féin and the IRA "both sides of the same coin".[66] The ostracism of Sinn Féin was shown in February 2005 when Dáil Éireann passed a motion condemning the party's alleged involvement in illegal activity. US President George W. Bush and Senator Edward Kennedy refused to meet Gerry Adams while meeting the family of Robert McCartney.[67]

On 10 March 2005, the British House of Commons in London passed a motion placed by the British Government to withdraw the allowances of the four Sinn Féin MPs for one year in response to the Northern Bank Robbery without significant opposition. This measure cost the party approximately £400,000. However, the debate prior to the vote mainly surrounded the more recent events connected with the murder of Robert McCartney. Conservatives and Unionists put down amendments to have the Sinn Féin MPs evicted from their offices at the House of Commons but these were defeated.[68]

In March 2005, Mitchell Reiss, the United States special envoy to Northern Ireland, condemned the party's links to the IRA, saying "it is hard to understand how a European country in the year 2005 can have a private army associated with a political party".[69]

Organisational structure

A Sinn Féin advice centre in Castlewellan

Sinn Féin is organised throughout Ireland, and membership is open to all Irish residents over the age of 16. The party is organised hierarchically into cumainn (branches), comhairle ceantair (district executives), cúigí (regional executives). At national level, the Coiste Seasta (Standing Committee) oversees the day-to-day running of Sinn Féin. It is an eight-member body nominated by the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle (National Executive) and also includes the chairperson of each cúige. The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle meets at least once a month. It directs the overall implementation of Sinn Féin policy and activities of the party.[citation needed]

The Ard Chomhairle also oversees the operation of various departments of Sinn Féin, viz Administration, Finance, National Organiser, Campaigns, Ógra Shinn Féin, Women's Forum, Culture, Publicity and International Affairs. It is made up of the following: Officer Board and nine other members, all of whom are elected by delegates to the Ard Fheis, fifteen representing the five Cúige regions (three delegates each). The Ard Chomhairle can co-opt eight members for specific posts and additional members can be co-opted, if necessary, to ensure that at least thirty per cent of Ard Chomhairle members are women.[citation needed]

The ard fheis (national delegate conference) is the ultimate policy-making body of the party where delegates - directly elected by members of cumainn - can decide on and implement policy. It is held at least once a year but a special Ard Fheis can be called by the Ard Chomhairle or the membership under special circumstances.[citation needed]

Ard Chomhairle Officer Board


Front Bench

Leadership history

Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Féin since 1983
In 1923 the party split, and pro-Treaty Sinn Féin TDs formed Cumann na nGaedheal
In 1926, de Valera resigned from Sinn Féin and launched Fianna Fáil
In 1970, there was another split, with one faction calling itself "Official Sinn Féin", and later Sinn Féin, the Workers' Party (1982), before settling on the Workers' Party (1982). The other faction was dubbed by media sources as "Provisionals" or "Provo's". Within two years the “Provos” secured control of the Republican Movement.[71]
In 1986, Ó Brádaigh left and set up Republican Sinn Féin.

Policy and Ideology

Sinn Féin and Ógra Shinn Féin signs in Strabane

Most of the party's policies are intended to be implemented on an 'all-Ireland' basis which further emphasises their central aim of creating a united Ireland.

Sinn Féin is considered a democratic socialist or left-wing party and aligns itself with the European United Left–Nordic Green Left. The party pledges support for minority rights, migrants' rights, and eradicating poverty. Although it is not in favour of the extension of legalized abortion (British 1967 Act) to Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin state they are opposed to the attitudes in society which "pressurise women" to have abortions and "criminalise" women who make this decision. The party does state that in cases of incest, rape, sexual abuse, or when a woman's life and health are at risk or in danger that the final decision must rest with the woman.[72]

Sinn Féin urged a "No" vote in the referendum held in Ireland on 12 June 2008 on the Lisbon Treaty.[73]

Social and cultural

Sinn Féin's main political goal is a united Ireland. Other key policies from their most recent election manifesto are listed below:

  • The 18 Northern Ireland MPs that sit in the Parliament of the United Kingdom to be allowed to sit in the Dáil Éireann as full Deputies as well,[74]
  • Ending academic selection within the education system,[75]
  • Support for a 'Minister for Children',
  • Diplomatic pressure to close Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant (in Britain),
  • Sinn Féin proposes a draft Irish Language Bill for the North (Northern Ireland),[76][dead link] a Bill that would give the Irish Language the same status that the Welsh language has in Wales
  • 'Plastic bag levy' to be extended to Northern Ireland,
  • To further Irish language teaching in Northern Ireland,

Economic policy

  • Increase in Capital Gains tax and DIRT,
  • A cap of public sector pay at three times the Average worker's wage,
  • A cap of the salaries of TDs and government ministers,
  • Standardization of discretionary tax reliefs,
  • Greater state investment in the economy,
  • Removing PRSI Ceiling,
  • Abolishing mortgage interest tax relief for landlords and property based tax reliefs,
  • Establishment of a government fund to aid small and medium enterprises,
  • An 'all-Ireland' economy with a common currency and one tax policy,
  • Greater investment for those who are disabled.[77]

Health policy

  • An 'All-Ireland-Health-Service' akin to the National Health Service in the United Kingdom,
  • Cap on consultants pay,
  • Abolishment of prescription charges for Medical card patients,
  • Expansion of primary care centres,
  • Gradual removal of subsidies of private practice in public hospitals and the introduction of a charge for practitioners for the use of public equipment and staff in their private practice,
  • Free breast screening (to check for breast cancer) of all women over forty - presumably in both Northern Ireland and the Republic,[78]

International relations

Sinn Féin supports the creation of a 'Minister for Europe' - likely to be used in the Dáil. Support of secessionism in the Basque County from the Kingdom of Spain. Opposition to the US blockade of Cuba.[79] Sinn Féin are opposed to what they term "the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel."[80][81]

Electoral performances

Northern Ireland

Election Body Share of votes Seats Share of seats
1982 Assembly 10.1% 5/78 6.4%
1983 Westminster 13.4% 1/18 5.5%
1987 Westminster 11.4% 1/18 5.5%
1992 Westminster 10.0% 0/18 0.0%
1996 Forum 15.5% 17/110 15.5%
1997 Westminster 16.1% 2/18 11.1%
1998 Assembly 16.7% 18/108 16.7%
2001 Westminster 21.7% 4/18 22.2%
2003 Assembly 23.5% 24/108 22.2%
2005 Westminster 24.3% 5/18 27.8%
2007 Assembly 26.2% 28/108 25.9%
2010 Westminster 25.5% 5/18 27.8%
2011 Assembly 26.9% 29/108 26.8%

Note: Sinn Féin elected members did not take their seats in any body except the post-1998 Assembly


In the 1982 Assembly elections, Sinn Féin won five seats with 64,191 votes (10.1%). The party narrowly missed winning additional seats in Belfast North and Fermanagh and South Tyrone. In the 1983 Westminster elections eight months later Sinn Féin increased its support, breaking the hundred thousand vote barrier for the first time by polling 102,701 votes (13.4%).[82] Gerry Adams won the Belfast West constituency with Danny Morrison only 78 votes short of victory in Mid Ulster.

The 1984 European elections proved to be a disappointment with Sinn Féin's candidate Danny Morrison polling 91,476 (13.3%) and falling well behind the SDLP candidate John Hume.

By the beginning of 1985 Sinn Féin had won their first representation on local councils due to three by-election wins in Omagh (Seamus Kerr, May 1983) and Belfast (Alex Maskey in June 1983 and Sean McKnight in early 1984). Three sitting councillors also defected to Sinn Féin in Dungannon, Fermanagh and Derry (the last defecting from the SDLP).[83][84][85] Sinn Féin succeeded in winning 59 seats in the 1985 local government elections. Originally the party had predicted winning only 40 seats. However the results continued to show a decline from the peak of 1983 as the party won 75,686 votes (11.8%).[85] The party failed to gain any seats in the 1986 by-elections caused by the resignation of Unionist MPs in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement, partly this was due to an electoral pact between Unionist candidates, however the SF vote fell in the four constituencies they contested.[86]

In the 1987 election Gerry Adams held his Belfast West seat but the party elsewhere failed to make breakthroughs and overall polled 83,389 votes (11.4%).[87] The same year saw the party contest the Dáil election in the Republic of Ireland, however they failed to win any seats and polled less than 2%.

The 1989 local government elections saw a drop in support for Sinn Féin.[88] Defending 58 seats (the 59 won in 1985 plus two 1987 by-election gains in West Belfast minus three councillors who had defected to Republican Sinn Féin in 1986) the party lost 15 seats. In the aftermath of the election Mitchell McLaughlin admitted that recent IRA activity had affected the Sinn Féin vote.[89]

The nadir for SF in this period came in 1992, with Gerry Adams losing his Belfast West seat to the SDLP and the SF vote falling in the other constituencies that they had contested relative to 1987.[90]


In the 1997 British General Election, Gerry Adams regained his Belfast West seat. Martin McGuinness also won a seat in Mid Ulster. In Irish elections the same year the party won its first seat since the 1957 elections with Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin gaining a seat in the Cavan-Monaghan constituency. In the Irish local elections in 1999 the party increased its number of councillors from 7 to 23.


The party overtook its nationalist rival, the Social Democratic and Labour Party as the largest nationalist party in the 2001 Westminster general election and local elections, winning four Westminster seats to the SDLP's three.[91] The party continues to subscribe, however, to an abstentionist policy towards the Westminster British parliament, on account of opposing that parliament's jurisdiction in Northern Ireland.[92][93]

Results in Northern Ireland from UK General Elections. Sinn Féin increased its number of seats from two in 1997 to five in 2005, four of them in the west. It retained its five seats in 2010.

Sinn Féin increased its share of the nationalist vote in the 2003 and 2007 Assembly elections, with Martin McGuinness, former Minister for Education, taking the post of deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland power-sharing Executive Committee. The party has three ministers in the Executive Committee.

In the 2010 General Election, the party retained its five seats,[94] and for the first time topped the poll at a Westminster Election in Northern Ireland, winning 25.5% of the vote.[95] All Sinn Féin MPs increased their share of the vote and with the exception of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, increased their majorities.[94] In Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Unionist parties agreed a joint candidate,[96] this resulted in the closest contest of the election, with Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew holding her seat by 4 votes after 3 recounts.[97]

Republic of Ireland

Dáil Éireann/Seanad Éireann

Election Share of votes Seats
(of 166)
Share of seats
1982 (Feb) 1.0% 0 0.0%
1982 (Nov) N/A N/A N/A
1987 1.9% 0 0.0%
1989 1.2% 0 0.0%
1992 1.6% 0 0.0%
1997 2.5% 1 0.6%
2002 6.0% 5 3.0%
2007 6.9% 4 2.4%
2011 9.9% 14 8.4%

The party had five TDs elected in the 2002 Republic general election, an increase of four from the previous election. At the general election in 2007 the party had expectations of substantial gains,[98][99][100] with poll predictions that they would gain five[101] to ten seats.[102] However, the party lost one of its seats to Fine Gael. Seán Crowe, who had topped the poll in Dublin South West fell to fifth place, with his first preference vote reduced from 20.28% to 12.16%.[103]

On 26 November 2010, Pearse Doherty won a seat in the Donegal South West by-election. It was the party's first by-election victory in the Republic of Ireland since 1925.[104] After negotiations with the left wing Independent TDs Finian McGrath and Maureen O'Sullivan, a Technical Group was formed in the Dáil to give its members more speaking time.[105][106]

In the 2011 Irish General Election the party made gains. All its sitting TDs were returned with Seán Crowe regaining the seat in Dublin South West he lost in 2007. In addition to winning long time targeted seats such as Dublin Central and Dublin North West the party gained unexpected seats in Cork East and Sligo-North Leitrim.[107] It ultimately won 14 seats, the best performance for the party's current incarnation. The party went on to win three seats in the Seanad election which followed their success at the General Election.

Local government

Sinn Féin is represented on most county and city councils. It made large gains in the local elections of 2004, increasing its number of councillors from 21 to 54, and replacing the Progressive Democrats as the fourth-largest party in local government.[108] At the local elections of June 2009, the party's vote fell by 0.95% to 7.34%, with no change in the number of seats. Losses in Dublin and urban areas were balanced by gains in areas such as Limerick, Wicklow, Cork, Tipperary and Kilkenny and the border counties .[109] However in the aftermath three of Sinn Féin's seven representatives on Dublin City Council resigned within six months of the June 2009 elections, one of them defecting to the Labour Party.[110] Many people within the party such as Toireasa Ferris and Eoin O'Broin have stated that the party must ask why it "failed to close a deal with voters".[111]

European elections

In the 2004 European Parliament election, Bairbre de Brún won Sinn Féin's first seat in the European Parliament, at the expense of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). She came in second behind Jim Allister, then of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).[112] In the 2009 election, de Brún was re-elected with 126,184 first preference votes, the only candidate to reach the quota on the first count. This was the first time since elections began in 1979 that the DUP failed to take the first seat, and was the first occasion Sinn Féin topped a poll in any Northern Ireland election.[113][114]

Sinn Féin made a breakthrough in the Dublin constituency. The party's candidate, Mary Lou McDonald, was third in terms of first preference vote. She polled 14.32% or 60,395 votes, close behind the leading Fianna Fáil contender, Eoin Ryan with 61,681 (14.62%). McDonald was elected on the sixth count as one of four MEPs for Dublin, effectively taking the seat of Patricia McKenna of the Green Party.[115]

At the next European election in 2009, Dublin's representation was reduced to three MEPs. The contest was further complicated by the candidature of Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party and of the former Green MEP, McKenna. A collapse in the vote of the government parties (Fianna Fáil and the Greens) was thought to be enough to re-elect McDonald, who would benefit from the transfers of Higgins and McKenna on their elimination. In the event Sinn Féin's first preferences fell to 47,928 (11.79%), and McDonald slipped to fifth place behind Higgins, who was elected with 22,000 of Sinn Féin's second preference votes.[116]

In the South constituency their candidate, Councillor Toireasa Ferris, managed to nearly double the number of first preference votes from 32,643 to 64,671[116] coming third, ahead of the Labour candidate Alan Kelly. However, Kelly managed to garner enough transfers to gain the last seat at the eight count.

Northern Ireland Executive Ministers (from 2011)

Portfolio Name
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MP MLA
Junior Minister
at Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister
Martina Anderson MLA
Agriculture and Rural Development Michelle O'Neill MLA
Education John O'Dowd MLA
Culture, Arts and Leisure Carál Ní Chuilín MLA

See also


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  • Mícheál MacDonncha, ed (2005) (in Irish / English). Sinn Féin: A Century of Struggle. Dublin: Sinn Féin. ISBN 0 9542946 2 9. 
  • Michael Laffan, The Resurrection of Ireland: The Sinn Féin Party 1916—1923 (Cambridge, 1999)
  • The Secret Army: The IRA, J Bowyer Bell, Poolbeg Press Ltd. Ireland 1997 (revised Third Edition), ISBN 1853718130
  • Sinn Féin: A Hundred Turbulent Years, Brian Feeney, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0862786959
  • The I.R.A., Tim Pat Coogan, HarperCollins Publishers London 2000, ISBN 0006531555
  • Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles 1968-1993, Paul Bew & Gordon Gillespie, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 1993, ISBN 0717120813
  • The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000, Diarmaid Ferriter, Profile Books, London 2005, ISBN 9781861974433
  • Ireland: A History, Robert Kee, Abacus, London (Revised Edition 2005), ISBN 0349116768
  • Eyewitness to Irish History, Peter Berresford Ellis, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Canada 2004, ISBN 0471266337
  • Joe Cahill: A Life in the IRA, Brendan Anderson, O'Brien Press, Dublin 2002, ISBN 0862786746
  • Taylor, Peter (1997). Provos The IRA & Sinn Féin. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 0747538182. 
  • The Transformation of Ireland 1900-2000, Diarmaid Ferriter, Profile Books, London 2005, ISBN 9781861974433

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