Tuesday 20 March 2018

Sinn Fein's romp has failed to materialise

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald at the count in the RDS. Photo: Tony Gavin
Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald at the count in the RDS. Photo: Tony Gavin


SINN Fein was supposed to romp home, destroying all in its path as the electorate declared its undying support for the politics of the left.

With the Government parties on their knees and Fianna Fail still a dirty word for politics, the former political wing of the Provisional IRA should have swept the boards.

But if the election results taught us anything, it was that the majority of the public are still not ready to accept Sinn Fein as a credible force in Irish politics.

Long before the last ballot box was opened it was clear for some time that Sinn Fein would increase its vote but the final result was well shy of the predicted 22 per cent.

The party came home at around 16 per cent in the local elections and it will hold about 120 local authority seats.

This is a massive jump on the 54 seats it took at the 2009 local election and senior party figures were rightly exuberant.

However, when the opinion polls are compared to the final count, it shows some people are still reluctant to vote for the party when it comes to marking the ballot paper.

Sinn Fein made a serious dent in the Labour Party's support but it has not lured as many voters as expected away from Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

The surge in support for independent candidates show the public would rather put its faith in relatively unknown politicians than trust Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein's close links to some of the worst atrocities of the Troubles is still an issue for voters, but an eventual leadership change could lead to further support for the party.

Gerry Adams's arrest in connection with the murder of Jean McConville seems to have had a more negative impact than the party thought.

However, the two European Parliament seats taken by Lynn Boylan, Liadh Ni Riada and possible third by Matt Carthy is a huge advance for the party.

In Europe, Sinn Fein's candidates will be part of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left grouping.

The grouping does not exert much influence in the European Parliament, but is set to increase the number of seats it holds.

The party has not had an MEP since Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald became the party's first European representative 10 years ago.

And Ms McDonald has played no small part in Sinn Fein's rise in popularity.

Her strong performances in the Dail and the Public Accounts Committee made her an attractive alternative for middle-income voters who traditionally leaned towards more established parties.

The Mary Lou effect has seen the party win seats in constituencies where they would not have previously considered running candidates.

The party now has councillors representing areas of South Dublin and South Tipperary.

Working-class communities are still the party's stronghold and it polled extraordinary well in areas of North Dublin.

However, ballots in some areas showed Sinn Fein receiving lots of plumper votes – marking only number one on the ballot sheet.

Sinn Fein will have the most councillors in Dublin City Council and Cork City Council for the next five years following election.

The party, which is regularly forced to defend its economic policies, will have the opportunity to exert strong influence over many city and county council budgets.

Local authorities will also have the power to decide on property tax rates in the coming years and Sinn Fein is an ardent opponent to the charge.

However, the party's promise to cut property tax may come home to roost when it holds the deciding vote and faced with difficult budgets. Another positive aspect of the vote for the party will be the result in the Dublin West by-election where Sinn Fein's Paul Donnelly narrowly missed out on a seat behind Socialist Party's Ruth Coppinger.

The increasing support for left-wing parties in the constituency will be a major headache for the coalition parties ahead of the next general election.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, who is based in the Dublin West constituency, even predicted a battle between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein to lead the next government.

Sunday Independent

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