In Depth

How Sinn Fein’s history could impact the Irish election

Republican party’s troubled past threatens to derail the political process in Dublin

Sinn Fein has spent the final week of the Irish general election campaign dogged by calls for its leader Mary Lou McDonald to apologise to the family of a man allegedly murdered by the IRA.

Paul Quinn, 21, was beaten to death in a barn near Oram, County Monaghan, in 2007. His family have always maintained that the republican terrorist group was behind the murder, the BBC reports.

However, speaking to the BBC shortly after the killing, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy claimed that Quinn was linked to “smuggling and criminality”. 

The murder has become a major issue in the run-up to tomorrow’s Irish general election, prompting Murphy to apologise for his previous comments about Quinn.

But with Sinn Fein’s associations with the IRA back under the spotlight, how could it impact on the vote?

What are the IRA's links to Sinn Fein?

Sinn Fein was founded in 1905 and has historically been regarded as the political wing of the IRA. Its name means “We Ourselves” or “Ourselves Alone” in Irish, and the party has vocally supported the IRA in the past.

Throughout the 1960s, Sinn Fein members were split over supporting the IRA’s use of violence.

“Whereas the ‘Official’ wing of the party, which was later renamed the Workers’ Party, emphasised political and parliamentary tactics,” Encyclopaedia Britannica says, “the ‘Provisional’ wing, or Provos, believed that violence – particularly terrorism – was necessary and justified.”

This split was mirrored in the IRA, which also divided into official and provisional factions.

As a result of its ties to the IRA, Sinn Fein was banned in the United Kingdom until 1974. It has been widely reported that senior members of the party, including its former president, Gerry Adams, have in the past sat on the IRA Army Council. Sinn Fein and Adams deny these allegations.

Since the 1990s both the IRA and Sinn Fein have insisted that they are no longer linked. But this has been rejected by some observers, and just this week a Sinn Fein canvassing van was spotted in the Cavan/Monaghan constituency playing a pro-IRA song

“There is no escaping the fact that Sinn Fein’s links to the IRA… has frequently made government in the North difficult, and sometimes impossible,” The Irish Times reports.

The paper adds that a string of former IRA members, including one who called himself Adams’s most trusted adviser, have “appear[ed] to wield considerable influence” in Sinn Fein.

How could the Quinn row impact the election?

On Monday, Sinn Fein was polling at 25%, ahead of favourites Fianna Fail on 23% and Leo Varadkar’s governing Fine Gael party on 20%, according to an Ipsos MRBI poll.

As the party is fielding only 42 candidates (compared with Fianna Fail’s 84, Sinn Fein will at best secure a quarter of the seats in parliament. But, The Guardian reports, the breakthrough could “realign Irish politics after a century of domination” by two centrist parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

With her party rocketing in the polls, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald is being touted as a potential kingmaker if neither Fianna Fail or Fine Gael get enough seats to form a government. But Fianna Fail has ruled out “a grand coalition” with Fine Gael, while both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have ruled out a coalition government with Sinn Fein. This could potentially cause political gridlock in Dublin.

As the BBC reports, the two main parties are concerned about “shadowy figures” behind the scenes at Sinn Fein, “often [including] former IRA prisoners”. 

The reigniting of the row over Paul Quinn’s death – just days before Ireland heads to the polls – has placed attention back on those links, further reducing the likelihood of post-election talks. 

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