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Sinn Fein

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What were the factors that contributed to the success of Sinn Fein in the 1918 general election?

What were the factors that contributed to the success of Sinn Fein? Firstly, the failure and weakness of their opposition, the Irish parliamentary party. Secondly, the luck and skill of Sinn Fein itself.

The 1916 Rising was branded the Sinn Fein Rising by newspapers. This linked inextricably Arthur Griffith’s party, which supported non-violent measures with the rising. This was because Sinn Fein members like Sean McDermott also took part in the rising. Although initially unpopular, after the executions of the leaders, huge sympathy was garnered for those who took part in the rising. Sinn Fein gained widespread popularity on the back of this swell for the Risings participants. The execution of Connolly, who was shot in a chair because he was so badly injured and Plunkett, who married his childhood sweetheart prior to his execution, inspired sympathy especially.

In 1918, Lloyd George attempted to introduce conscription in Ireland. This was heavily opposed by all parties and the Church. Eamonn de Valera, now Sinn Fein leader, signed and started a petition against conscription which was signed by two million people. In this way, Sinn Fein gained the credit when the government backed down.

Also in 1918 the electorate was expanded to all males over 21 and all females over 30. The created a swathe of new, young voters, radicalised by events since 1916, all enthused by the vibrant leadership of Sinn Fein. Eamonn de Valera, Michael Collins, Cathal Brugha et al, as opposed to the staid IPP. Sinn Fein was an exciting party promising change and abstention, which meant an all Ireland Parliament.

The Irish Parliamentary Party was by now seen as a staid, conservative party and very firmly associated with the House of Commons, which had failed to deliver Home Rule. The IPP was led by John Dillon, aged 70, and did not have the glamour associated with the revolutionary Sinn Fein. The fact that the partition of Ireland had been accepted as unavoidable by John Redmond, the previous leader, at the Buckingham Palace Conference of 1914, also lost them support. Sinn Fein were then in favour of independence for the whole of Ireland.

The convention of 1917 was attended by the IPP, the political parties of the North and the government. Sinn Fein and the labour party boycotted. This conference ended in failure with no agreement reached. It was a very public failure and it reinforced the association of the IPP and failure. The fact that Sinn Fein boycotted and so were not associated with the failure, and could in fact criticise the IPP, meant further boosts to Sinn Fein’s popularity.

After the election was called in 1918, the labour party, founded in 1914, with a support base mainly in Dublin and among trade unionists and the working class, decided not to contest the election. It did this so as to offer to the Irish people a clear-cut choice between the IPP and Sinn Fein, between Home Rule and abstention and a rival parliament. The effect of this was that the working class and trade unionists who would have voted labour in fact, in the main, voted for Sinn Fein. Labour’s decision prevented a split in the vote basically and was very advantageous to Sinn Fein.

Public Sympathy for Sinn Fein was also aroused by government interference in the electoral process. The ‘German Plot’ was apparently discovered by Dublin Castle and, so, the leaders of Sinn Fein (de Valera, Arthur Griffith) were imprisoned and organisations like the Gaelic league, the volunteers were prohibited. So during the election many Sinn Fein candidates were in prison, which led to a swelling of their support in sympathy.

The representatives were also very active in other organisations like the Gaelic League and the Volunteers and the GAA. This was a throwback to the policies of the IRB, which infiltrated all major organisations. This network meant that cultural nationalists were exposed to, and surrounded by, these political nationalists, Sinn Fein members, and so were influenced to vote for them. They were in 1918 thousands involved in organisations like the GAA and Gaelic League and the Irish Literary Society.

There were many reasons for the success of Sinn Fein in 1918P. Partly it was the weakness of the IPP, but also the luck and skill…...

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