If there is one candidate who illustrates the stunning rise of Sinn Féin, it is Sorca Clarke in Westmeath.
No political pundits gave her a chance of wining. She had lost her seat in the local elections last year. Sinn Féin‘s organisation in the constituency was in turmoil following the acrimonious departure of Paul Hogan, its former general election candidate. He claimed he had been the victim of bullying and had been left “isolated and ostracised” by his party.
Yet the tallies show that Clarke is going to win a seat in Longford-Westmeath. She has topped the poll with 18 per cent of the vote. That is a phenomenal performance given that she is up against surefire vote-getters such as Robert Troy of Fianna Fáil and Kevin “Boxer” Moran, the independent.
Almost as amazing are the tallies from Limerick city showing that Sinn Féin’s Maurice Quinlivan is poised to top the poll with more than 10,000 votes. That means he is set to beat Willie O’Dea of Fianna Fáil, who topped the poll there in 2016 with almost 13,000 votes.
Another constituency worth mentioning is the Dublin Mid-West four-seater where Sinn Féin itself believed it would be near-impossible for Eoin O‘Broin TD and its new TD Mark Ward – elected in the by-election there in November – to hold two seats. The tallies show they have 42 per cent of the vote between them and are well-placed to do just that.
Sinn Féin’s surge appears to have come at the expense of Fianna Fáil in some areas. In Mayo, the tally put Senator Rose Conway-Walsh in joint first place on 23 per cent, tied with Michael Ring, the Fine Gael Minister. This was equal to the combined vote tally for Dara Callery, Fianna Fáil’s deputy leader, and Lisa Chambers, the party’s Brexit spokeswoman.
Sinn Féin believes it is in a position to win a seat tally in the “mid-30s”.
The party looks set to win seats in constituencies that were never previously realistic targets, such as Mayo, Tipperary and Dublin Bay South.
Well-placed sources acknowledged that voters in some constituencies were voting for the party brand rather than individual candidates, whom they may not have known very well.
Chris Andrews, the party’s candidate in Dublin Bay South, highlighted the unlikeness of winning a seat in the famously affluent area. “Dublin Bay South returned a unionist in 1918!” he tweeted.
Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who is set to top the poll in Dublin South Central, said voters had responded to his party’s proposals on issues such as housing and health.
“We’ve come up with solutions. The solutions were put before the people and they’ve spoken. They’ve spoken today right across the country and that can be seen by the number of new Sinn Féin TDs as well as the existing ones who are going to be elected in this election,” he said.
He suggested the party would form a part of the next government.
“We will set out that programme in the future government,” he said.
Mary Lou McDonald said as she arrived at the RDS that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were in denial about her party’s progress. “I do no accept the exclusion or talk of excluding our party, a party that represents now almost a quarter of the electorate. I think that is fundamentally undemocratic.”
As a side note, the woman dressed in yellow, standing just behind Ó Snodaigh in the video above, is Sinn Féin Senator Máire Devine. Until last year she had been on the ticket for the Dublin South Central constituency alongside Ó Snodaigh.
Sinn Féin was then spooked by the losses it suffered in the local and European elections in May last year and de-selected Devine. The impression now from Sinn Féin is that they had to play safe. They never expected the surge that the party experienced in the past few weeks.
The shape of the next government is not clear, but Sinn Féin already feels that it is the winner of the election.