Sinn Fein MEP, Martina Anderson, has conceded that the people of Derry have sent the party a message, after the party lost almost a third of its council seats and its status as the single largest party on Derry & Strabane Council.
The Derry politician vowed that the party was listening to that message and would reflect on the result after a series of blows right across the city and district, with casualties including long-standing councillors such as former mayors Kevin Campbell and Maolíosa McHugh, as well as Eric McGinley.
Sinn Féin had 16 councillors going into the election but managed to retain 11 seats to the new, more eclectic local authority - the same number as the SDLP.
In fact, Derry & Strabane bucked the trend for Sinn Féin, who performed strongly across much of the North.
Speaking to the ‘Journal’ at the count centre, Martina Anderson said: “Overall we have been doing quite well but we recognise Derry has been through a challenging time. I think that has been reflected in the result. That said, I think we have had a couple of narrow defeats, when you look at Eric McGinley, how close he came to taking a seat. It was just a few votes.
“We have a great council team that delivers on the ground, but we are going to reflect on this. We’re listening to the voters, we are listening to what they are saying to us and we will reflect on this, particularly in this city. I think the people of Derry know Sinn Féin well enough to know that we do listen and we will bounce back.”
“It’s not reflective of what’s happening across the North.”
The ‘Journal’ asked Ms. Anderson whether she thought the party was punished at the polls locally, amid anger over Welfare Reform.
Sinn Féin voted for the roll out of Welfare Reform/Universal Credit after securing mitigations back in 2015, but with no functioning Stormont these mitigations are now due to end next year,
“I think it was a mixture of a whole lot of things,” she answered, while pointing to “the work Sinn Féin had done to protect the most vulnerable in our society and the mitigation measures that were put in place.
“Even the most recent report suggests there are 42,000 people that are not paying bedroom tax because of the work that Sinn Féin has put in, but in elections people have widespread concerns and there are many reasons why people vote the way they do, but the one thing I would never do is challenge the way people vote,” she claimed.
“This is called democracy and this is people’s say and this is people’s stay. What we have to do is to listen to the people.
“Across the north we have made gains in places we never had before and whilst that is not reflected in this city, the people of Derry have a right, and they know how to send a party a message, and they know we are a party that will listen and react.”
The European Parliament representative added that she did not think the message that was sent to the party locally was related to Brexit.
“I think the people of this city know what I have done as MEP and what Sinn Féin has done in the European Parliament but, probably what people have are deep concerns in relation to where we are and where we are going.
“Sometimes it can be bigger and greater than just the local elections, but our councillors are rooted and relevant and on the ground,” she maintained.