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Sinn Féin’s ongoing rise in opinion polls suggests the biggest change in Irish politics since 1933

John Downing


Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/Laura Hutton/PA)

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/Laura Hutton/PA)

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/Laura Hutton/PA)

SO, signs are that one out of every four voters may choose a Sinn Féin candidate in the general election next Saturday.

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If the latest voter survey result carries through to the ballot box, then we are on the cusp of the most fundamental change in the Irish party political system since the late 1933.

According to the Irish Times Ipsos MRBI survey, Sinn Féin has leaped into first place with 25pc. That survey puts Fine Gael, which leads the outgoing government, in third place 20pc. Fianna Fáil is in the middle on 23pc behind Sinn Féin’s 25pc.

This is a further boost for Mary Lou McDonald with news from RTÉ also revealing she will not be just “a face at the window” in tonight’s last television leaders’ debate. The contentious decision by the national broadcaster to include her alongside Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin certainly makes box office stuff four days from the vote on Saturday.

Interviews for this latest survey were done last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The outcome is a further shock to all the mainstream parties, especially for outgoing Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, Leo Varadkar.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gives answers questions outside Crescent Shopping centre in Limerick. He said he welcomes the inclusion of Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald in Tuesday night's Prime Time leaders' debate.

The figures suggest Ireland is on the brink of an historic general election result on Saturday. Many historians will look back to a general election in January 1933 when the emerging Fianna Fáil – the party which arose from the defeated grouping in the Civil War a decade previously – took power on entirely on its own steam from the party which was fore-runner of Fine Gael.

Despite the latest survey indicating a big-picture national trend, the outcome of what amounts to 39 separate in all the Dáil constituencies remains extremely hard to call. Tight contests for final seats in many places will decide the future shape of any coalition which political leaders might be capable of putting together.

And there is a contradiction in this latest survey finding. It indicates Fianna Fáil is still the most popular choice for government, with more voters expressing a preference for a coalition government involving that party. By contrast Sinn Féin is the party most voters do not want to see in government.

Sinn Féin is also held back by not having enough candidates in the field to take up all the votes which appear out there for them. Surveys often over-state their potential vote take – but even if voters deliver this time, the party is unlikely to have the most TDs in the Dáil.

But overall, it makes for a pretty hectic finish to a hitherto dull enough campaign, since Taoiseach Leo Varadkar fired the start gun on Tuesday, January 14. All eyes will be on tonight’s newly-transformed three-way leaders’ debate on RTÉ television.

The new dynamic poses a distinct challenge for the Sinn Féin leader who has benefitted by default from being driven to the outside. But it also poses challenges for both Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin.

Tomorrow’s debate and the following days of campaigning have the potential to finally put some real fire into what was up to now struggling campaign.

Online Editors