Sinn Fein’s president insisted the party was “not simply about winning elections” as she vowed to learn the lessons of bruising poll results.
Mary Lou McDonald said the party would rise again after suffering heavy losses at council level.
It is also facing the prospect of losing seats in the European election.
Mrs McDonald was pressed on the poor performance as she arrived at the Northern Ireland count centre, where outgoing MEP Martina Anderson was returned having topped the poll, albeit with a 3% fall in vote share.
“It has been a challenging weekend for us,” she said.
“But you see the thing about Sinn Fein is we will meet challenges, we will even get speed bumps on the road, and we will rise to that and we will overcome that because Sinn Fein isn’t just about a single election, in fact we are not simply about winning elections.
“Sinn Fein is an ideal. Sinn Fein is about social justice, it’s about Irish unity, we serve a cause we believe in and whatever challenges and difficulties we encounter we will always rise to them and meet them.”
She added: “As the leader of the party I want to make it clear that whatever lessons are to be learned from these elections, and there are many, that we will learn them and that we will make absolutely sure that we can rise to the occasion and the next time round when these seats are up for grabs again we will field candidates again and I hope we will win them all back and then some more.”
Mrs McDonald denied the party’s support had plateaued in the Irish Republic.
“Absolutely not, we are only beginning, we have plenty more room for growth,” she said.
Asked what the prospect of a general election were, she replied: “Very real and have been for some time. But I would be speculating, I don’t know – ask Leo (Varadkar).”
Party vice-president Michelle O’Neill said one of the factors behind the party’s bad showing south of the border was that working class voters did not come out.
“Clearly we are disappointed with those results and we will have to have a full analysis of all of that – we will do that throughout the course of time,” she said.
“I think it’s a combination of reasons you could point to very quickly, not least the surge of the Greens and I think the fact in working class areas the vote didn’t come out.
“So we will have a full analysis of all of that. Clearly we are disappointed but you know what – we will dust ourselves down and we will go back at it again.”