Sinn Fein doubled its strength in the polls over the Labor Party and at the same time warned dissident Republican groups that the “war is over” in the North.
The party in the space of a few years in the Republic consolidated its position as the second most important, compared to a lowly fourth a decade ago.
As members celebrated at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis in Killarney Martin McGuinness, the North’s deputy first minister, advised dissident Republicans that the process of building a new future would continue with or without them.
In a keynote address, he offered dissidents an opportunity to “come and tell us what you hope to gain by deluding yourselves and the gullible, that your actions will succeed in what is certainly a pathetic and futile attempt to turn back the clock.”
He also referred to others in Derry who style themselves as anti-drug campaigners and who are involved in shootings and punishment beatings against “vulnerable young people.”
McGuinness, a former senior IRA member, said, “Over 30 years ago I spoke out against such attacks and I do so again. These attacks are deplorable, they are not wanted and they need to end.”
McGuinness was particularly scathing about dissidents who murdered Ronan Kerr last year, a young GAA-loving police officer. He also paid a rare tribute at Sinn Fein conferences to the Unionist population.
He said, “I recognize there are one million people on this island who are British, and let me state here and now that as a proud Irish republican I not only recognize the Unionist and British identity, I respect it and in return all I seek is for my Irish identity and tradition to be respected as well.”
Several speakers, including party president Gerry Adams, underlined Sinn Fein’s campaign for a no vote in the fiscal treaty referendum this week.
But Adams also dwelt at length on the political situation in the Republic. Some of his sharper comments were reserved for the Labor Party, Sinn Fein’s principal rival for the left-wing vote and the affections of trade Unionists.
Listing the austerity measures taken by the Fine Gael/Labor coalition, he asked, “What really is the point of the Labor Party in this government? What would Connolly think of the promises broken by the party he founded?”
Meanwhile, an Irish Times opinion poll showed that Sinn Fein is now twice as popular in Ireland as Labor, and Adams is the most popular leader.