Sinn Fein wins first seat in European Parliament

REUTERS , DUBLIN

Tue, Jun 15, 2004 - Page 6

Sinn Fein, the Irish republican party which for decades allied itself to the bloodiest guerrilla movement in post-war Europe, won its first seat in the European Parliament, results announced on Monday showed.

The party, which stood by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) throughout its bloody campaign for an end to British rule in Northern Ireland -- took one of four seats in Dublin.

With results still to come in from elsewhere in the country, it was pushing hard for another seat in the northwest and is almost certain to take one in Northern Ireland when the province announces its European results later.

"Instinctively, people are republican," Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said late on Sunday in explaining his party's stunning performance, which was mirrored in local elections.

"They want to see an end to British rule, want to see a united Ireland, want to see peace between orange and green."

The party doubled its share of the vote in the Irish Republic from the last European vote in 1999, when it polled 6.3 percent. The party's Dublin candidate Mary Lou McDonald took around a 14.5 percent share.

"It's an endorsement of our work nationally, it's an endorsement of our peace strategy and it's also a reflection of people's appetite for change," she said. "Sinn Fein is on the move and is a growing force in Irish political life."

The results represent a remarkable transformation from the days when Sinn Fein was vilified for its links with the IRA.

It has campaigned on a radical, left-wing agenda aimed at those left behind by Ireland's "Celtic Tiger" economic boom and those fed up with Britain's continued rule in the north.

More than 3,600 people were killed during the conflict between Irish nationalists, seeking a united island, and loyalists who want to maintain British rule.

Around half of those deaths were blamed on the IRA, which called a ceasefire in 1994.