If you look at the results from the General Election in Ireland in simple terms, then Sinn Fein did brilliantly. They trebled their representation and Gerry Adams topped the poll in Louth. It can't be seen as anything other than a great result. Or can it? I think there has been a lack of proper critical analysis of just how good a performance Sinn Fein provided. I would wager, however, that there within Sinn Fein there is a small group of people who have the sense to examine things carefully before getting too carried away with the champagne.
If you start to consider context, then the result becomes less impressive, at least in my opinion. Fianna Fail were always going to get hammered electorally in this election and so were the Greens. They were effectively non players. What was left were Labour, Fine Gael, Sinn Fein and the Independents. Sinn Fein were never going to beat Fine Gael and Labour, but this was an opportunity to beat Fianna Fail. While this election was indeed focused almost solely on the economy, people do not suspend deep rooted ideology easily and as the 'other' republican party offering a completely different economic agenda, why did Sinn Fein not beat Fianna Fail?
This was a fair result for Sinn Fein, but I would say that picking up Fianna Fail seats in the election should have been like shooting fish in a barrel for the Shinners if, as they say, votes for Sinn Fein were endorsement and not protest. When up against such weak opposition, the result is more one of meeting expectations than exceeding them.
I don't buy that this was a massive endorsement of Sinn Fein and nor do I believe that those voters who turned to Sinn Fein will necessarily stay the course and give them their backing by default next time. However, Sinn Fein now have the chance to consolidate and demonstrate that whether the electorate gave them their vote in protest or endorsement, they were right to do so.
I picture this result as more of a relief for Sinn Fein than a great victory in the same way that Alex Ferguson is relived when Man United beat a non league team in the FA Cup; victory is expected and anything less is disastrous.