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There are lessons from this election; the hard lesson for Fine Gael and Fianna Fail that you can’t have it both ways.

It insults people’s intelligence to celebrate the peace in the North, messaging on inclusivity while, in the South, deeming Sinn Fein not fit for government.

The exit poll on Saturday told us that the ‘shadowy figures’ strategy had backfired – the emerging numbers and arithmetic representing an earthquake in the political system.

Playing politics with the Past is not the way to the future. Putting it kindly, it was a blunder.

This has to be part of the learning.

We can’t bring back the dead, but we can remember them properly, try to create a mechanism within which every story is heard and recorded, give serious thought to the best ways of achieving maximum information – from all sides – think of the best practical help that is available and, remember this; that bad politics was part of what created the poison of the Past. It should not be allowed to destroy the future.

Housing and health, the economy – a chance to breathe – became the issues of this election. Voters thought outside the usual box and voted differently at the ballot box.

Who will ignore them?


We have watched all of this develop in the three short weeks of this election campaign.

From nowhere, Sinn Fein found a way into the story – into the headlines – and, then, into the leaders’ debate.

The numbers could not be ignored; numbers I’m sure that even Sinn Fein found hard to believe.

What was their thinking in the lead up to this election?

I am told it was about trying to consolidate what they had; the 20-plus seats, but knowing that was no easy task and that the numbers could drop into the teens.

The Presidential and European elections had been poor; disastrous, some might say.

Then something changed; the mood and the polls across several sets of figures.


There is a story told about one woman who approached a Sinn Fein candidate during this campaign to tell her she would be voting for the party for the first time; a conversation in which she described Fine Gael and Fianna Fail as two cakes but the same ingredients.

This election has produced a different mix.

You see it in the numbers; hear it in the mood.

For all of the pre-election talk about Sinn Fein being not fit for government and needing to be house-trained, these figures are saying something else; demanding something else.


Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O’Neill, Pearse Doherty, Eoin O Broin and Louise O’Reilly are of the peace process – not the conflict period.

The republican leadership of the ’70s – ’80s – ’90s needs to find a way to free them from the questions of the Past.

That means some answering and accountability along with all the other sides as part of some wider truth-recovery or information-retrieval process.

We don’t need some re-run of the conflict period on a different stage.

What we do need is something more thinking and more thoughtful; something, less political – and people who, on this vexed question of legacy, can begin to think outside the box.

The ‘wars’ are meant to be over.

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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at www.merrionpress.ie


  1. I cannot wait for a Sinn Fein Government in the South
    Hopefully they will get to implement their economic policies in full with no backsliding
    The Economic Devastation will set unity with Northern Ireland back for a good 20 years
    So come on Sinn Fein Fully Implement your manifesto and ignore the squeals of Business and Civic Society
    Tackle the vested interests full on-regardless of consequences then make yourselves irreelevent for a couple of decades-Job Done

  2. Brian,

    Yesterday the PSNI stated that Loyalists were responsible for 2 security alerts in North Belfast; one at Holy Cross Girls School in Ardoyne and another at Sinn Fein offices on the Antrim Road. Is this Loyalism’s response to SF’s electoral success in the South and are we seeing the Loyalist ceasefires starting to unravel? Who was responsible for the security alerts and are the UDA and UVF about to restart their violence?

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