Explain the reasons behind the rise of Sinn Fein and the problems they now face.

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Explain the reasons behind the Rise of Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein emerged in the early 20th century in opposition to Home Rule, their separatist stance evident from their name: Sinn Fein means ‘ourselves alone.’ They made their first foray into politics after the Easter Rising of 1916. In the 1980s Sinn Fein realised that their voice could be heard politically in Northern Ireland and Gerry Adams was first elected in 1983.

The party has definitely done well from entering into the GFA and has become accepted as the mainstream voice of nationalism. They have gained support from areas they would never have claimed previously. Middle class Catholic families now view the party as a legitimate choice, following their rejection of violence, decommissioning and distancing themselves from the IRA. Their assembly performance and professionalism has also been commended and this has given them more legitimacy to govern. Their decision to 'work with unionism' has also proved popular and they have managed to maintain and even grow their vote.

Decommissioning is a particular issue that has gained them more votes. Once they agreed to the GFA, decommissioning became inevitable. This was an area of contention between SF and the DUP, because the DUP insisted on no ‘government before guns.’ The result was that Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams was walking a tightrope between appeasing the unionists and hardliners within the IRA ranks. Sinn Fein played the politics of negotiation to great effect, demanding that it would control decommissioning and not the British government or the unionist parties. Eventually decommissioning occurred, but it was not until 2005 that everything was fully destroyed.

Since 1994 the positions of the SDLP and Sinn Fein have been largely reversed. In 1994 the SDLP was still the dominant nationalist party in terms of its share of the Nationalist vote and representation. Sinn Fein was in the middle of its strategic shift into constitutional politics. Over the next decade Sinn Fein was to take over as the leading Nationalist party, in terms of Assembly, Westminster and local government representation. In 2003 they became the leading Nationalist party and have continued to rise. Currently Sinn Fein has 28 MLAs, 4 MPs and 4 MEPs.

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The decline of the SDLP has translated into votes for Sinn Fein. SDLP weakness, lack-lustre leadership and policy muddling will only make SF even stronger. The SDLP has been the net loser to SF from the Good Friday agreement which it ironically was the architect. The SDLP suffered for many reasons: 1998 saw it meeting many of its long term policies, leaving it fighting for relevance for a while. The retirement of John Hume - a man of towering stature was a severe blow. The party went through a series of leaders trying to reclaim their touch. The party was ...

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