The result of Friday’s Meath by-election has been widely watched as the first test of Sinn Fein’s electoral strength since the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney.
SF’s Joe Reilly came third on the first preference vote with 12.25 per cent, up from 9.4 per cent at the 2002 General election. Given the huge negative publicity they have faced in recent months, Sinn Fein will claim this as something of a victory.
However, critics will point to the low turnout and the fact that Reilly actually picked up only 45 extra votes over the general election.
On balance, it’s a decent result but maybe not what Sinn Fein would have hoped for three months ago.
Most of the nationalist and republican-minded people I’ve spoken to recently in London want Sinn Fein to do something to take the initiative.
Last week’s Belfast Telegraph poll would suggest that nationalist voters in the north feel similarly.
The party itself however seems focused on a new round of negotations, and doesn’t look as if it wants to throw away any bargaining chips ahead of time.