A lot of Irish water has passed under the bridge since the last Westminster elections in Northern Ireland. How will powersharing affect Sinn Fein’s prospects in the province of returning its five MPs?
Here’s a summary of their triumphs – and setbacks – on the long road to polling day.
High – February 5th: Powersharing breakthrough – Deadlock over the devolution of policing and justice powers finally ended as Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party cut a deal. It took weeks of negotiations to get there and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness was euphoric. “This might just be the day when the political process in the north came of age,” he said.
Low – February 23rd: Newry bombing – A massive car bomb exploded outside a courthouse in Newry. Police called it a “miracle” no one was hurt. Dissident republicans were blamed, in a move condemned by the local Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy. “The people responsible have absolutely nothing to offer the community except the prospect of a return to the past,” he said.
Low – March 4th: Gerry Adams’ brother arrested – Liam Adams gave himself up to police in Ireland. He had been wanted by the Police Service of Northern Ireland over allegations of sexual abuse.
High – March 9th: Policing devolution clears NI Assembly – The final hurdle for policing and justice devolution was cleared, to the huge relief of the powersharing executive. A last-minute intervention from George Bush failed to persuade the Ulster Unionists from backing the deal, however.
High – April 4th: Easter uprising – Gerry Adams issued a balanced speech at the annual Easter commemoration at west Belfast’s Milltown cemetery, welcoming the fact violence in Northern Ireland has ended, but he refused to retract his support for the IRA. “The war should never be glamorised or repeated,” he said, “but neither should the republican involvement in it – the [IRA’s] involvement, the involvement of our patriot dead – be permitted by us to be criminalised or retrospectively delegitimised.”
Low – April 9th: Teaming up – Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew faced a tough challenge, with the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) and Ulster Conservatives and Unionists (UCU) running a joint candidate against her. Rodney Connor, former chief executive of Fermanagh District Council, is standing as an independent, although he’ll take the Tory whip on matters outside of Northern Ireland. Both unionists parties stood in the seat in 2005, and this time are determined not to split the vote.
High – April 13th: Adams kicks off public meetings – Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams kicks off the first of his Six Counties public meetings with a tough speech in Derry’s Guild Hall. The speech sees him call on voters to offer Sinn Fein a firmer mandate.
Low – April 13th: Pact rejected – Adams is left bitter when SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie refuses to discuss unity candidates in key constituencies. Adams wanted Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew to get a clear run at Fermanagh South Tyrone in exchange for standing down Alex Maskey in South Belfast.
High – April 20th: dignified exit – Sinn Fein looks dignified by pulling out of the South Belfast constituency it has offered as a pact in exchange for the SDLP stepping down in Fermanagh-South Tyrone. The SDLP turned down the offer, but Adams went through with his side of the bargain anyway, winning warm headlines.
Low – April 22nd: Sectarian headcount – Margaret Ritchie, party leader for the SDLP lays into Sinn Fein, saying: “Those who are offering little more in this election than the latest sectarian headcount are missing the point.”