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Monday, 12 March, 2001, 15:00 GMT
Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein is the second biggest nationalist party in Northern Ireland and has grown out of the republican movement against a British presence in any part of Ireland.

The party, which was long regarded by its critics as merely a mouthpiece for the IRA, has sought to position itself as the modern face of the republican movement, emphasising its support for the peace process and broader nationalist goals.

It is a signatory and supporter of the Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998 which created the devolved bodies and power-sharing arrangements between both of Northern Ireland's communities.

Its support for the agreement, coming four years after the IRA called its first ceasefire in almost 30 years, proved a major political turning point for republicans.

For the first time since partition of Ireland in 1922, the majority of the republican movement supported an agreement that delivered autonomy from London but fell short of the primary goal of complete Irish independence.

The agreement also enshrined the principle of cross-party consent into Northern Ireland politics, placing the onus on the politicians to find agreement among themselves.

However, a minority of dissidents have split from mainstream republicanism, leading to the rise of the so-called "Real IRA", currently carrying out bombing attacks in Northern Ireland and London.

The party's president, Gerry Adams, and its chief negotiator and education minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Martin McGuinness, both hold Westminster seats but do not take them up.

Since before the 1994 IRA ceasefire, the party has put greater emphasis on pursuing its aims via a political path, saying that it was incumbent on all sides in Northern Ireland to "remove the guns from Irish politics".

But the party's unionist critics say that Sinn Fein's assertions that it cannot speak for the IRA are a smokescreen - and that its leaders are doing nothing to deliver the arms decommissioning expected, in the very least, in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Fein remains under great pressure over this issue - but insists that the causes of conflict will only be finally resolved when other issues such as policing and the British military presence are addressed in a "full implementation" of the agreement.

The party is targeting seats in West Tyrone, North Belfast and Fermanagh South Tyrone and it is involved in a longer-term battle with the SDLP for nationalist voters.

Speculation that the two parties would enter a pre-election pact to maximise the nationalist vote came to nothing.

In the Northern Ireland Assembly, the party holds 18 seats and two ministerial portfolios - that held by Mr McGuinness and the health post under Bairbre de Brun.

Founded in 1905

The first party known as Sinn Fein was founded in 1905 declaring itself as working for the right of Irish people as a whole to attain self-determination".

The name translates into English as "Ourselves Alone" and the parties policies have long been based on a revolutionary socialist analysis of Irish history.

The modern developed following the split in the republican movement in 1971 when the Provisional IRA (effectively republicans in Northern Ireland and the border areas) split from the Official IRA amid the worsening violence.

It has one member of the Irish parliament, Caoimghin O Caolain.



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