Opinion

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Abusing rape victims doesn't win elections

One in three voters has been put off voting Sinn Fein by the Mairia Cahill case, says Eilis O'Hanlon, but is the party listening?

Mairia Cahill
Mairia Cahill

Eilis O'Hanlon

Those poor unfortunates in Fine Gael whose job it is to advise Enda Kenny on party strategy must have felt a bit like Captain Renault in Casablanca in recent years.

"How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that," the police chief tells Humphrey Bogart's Rick as he turns down the advances of a beautiful ex-girlfriend. "Some day they may be scarce."

The Taoiseach has been throwing away voters in much the same way. At the height of post general election hubris, with the Government sitting on a majority so big it could have legislated for anything and got away with it by sheer force of numbers, it didn't seem to matter how many Fine Gael deputies were lost along the way, because who'd miss a few backbenchers? The answer now is clear: Enda does.

How he must wish he had them all back, as the latest Irish Times/Ipsos poll shows Fine Gael to be in third place behind Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail. Which order the three main parties (as they currently stand) take in the rankings probably doesn't matter much. Once the margin of error is taken into account, they're all roughly standing at the same level of support. Or, to put it another way, Sinn Fein is cock-a-hoop at the moment because, at a time when there's never been greater dissatisfaction and political volatility, it now enjoys the same support as the party which wrecked the country, and the party which cemented the damage by paying billions to unsecured bondholders, then rubbed salt into the wound by introducing water charges.

With the polls so tight, it goes without saying that every voter counts and that Sinn Fein should no more be throwing away potential supporters than Humphrey Bogart should be throwing away women.

Yet this is exactly what it's done of late. According to the Ipsos poll, more than a third of voters say they're now less willing to vote for Sinn Fein as a result of the party's handling of the Mairia Cahill case.

That's a third of voters who didn't need to be alienated because there was no benefit whatsoever in alienating them who were alienated anyway just for the heck of it. The only reason for taking such a damaging hardline stance on the cover up of rape and sexual abuse was to protect those in the IRA who did it, which makes sense if your first priority is to provide succour to hard men from West Belfast, but it's never going to make a party more attractive to normal voters, certainly not in a electoral system in which transfers are crucial.

Those less likely to vote for Sinn Fein as a result of the party leadership beating up on a rape victim, not to mention its snarling online attack dogs taking to social media to kick her when she was vulnerable, are traditional Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour voters.

To hell or Connaught with them, Sinn Fein no doubt thinks. Who needs 'em anyway?

It remains to be seen how confident Sinn Fein feels about that strategy when they're down to the tenth count in a tight constituency and someone suddenly notices the transfers just aren't there to push them across the line - especially with the same poll also showing that 36pc of voters who back Independent and Other candidates also say they're less likely to vote for Adams' party as a result. Sinn Fein will not win by core support alone. It will need those despised Blueshirts too.

The breakdown of the figures also shows that older voters have been turned off by Sinn Fein's macho posturing on this issue more than younger voters - and guess which demographic is more likely to vote? A study by National Youth Council in Ireland in September found that a third of 18-25-year-olds aren't even on the electoral register; and when they are signed up to vote, they don't turn out on the day in the same numbers. Sinn Fein is playing hardball with the very people whose transfers they need to ever have a chance of being in government.

Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me. That will no doubt be Sinn Fein's self-pitying response. Tell that to the 10pc of Sinn Fein's own core supporters who told Ipsos they too are less likely to vote for the party as a result of how it handled the Mairia Cahill affair. Of course, it's balanced out by the 15pc of Sinn Fein voters who declared, bizarrely, that they're more likely to vote for the party in response to the scandal around the cover up of sexual abuse by IRA members, but that rather misses the point. These people are already Sinn Fein voters. You don't need to convince them. It's the ones who were going to vote for you, and will maybe have a change of heart, that you have to worry about winning back round. Which is going to be a hard thing to do when 15pc of their fellow republicans are apparently so thrilled with the sinister hounding of a young woman who was raped by an IRA member, only to see her abuser protected by his comrades in balaclavas, that they declare themselves more convinced than ever that SF is the party for them.

Here's hoping that none of these people have access to children, because that is a disturbingly high figure. No doubt these degenerates will say the Mairia Cahill case made them more likely to vote for Sinn Fein only insofar as they don't think it fair for Sinn Fein to be singled out for attack on the issue; that voting for Sinn Fein is a way of putting two fingers up to the establishment.

However, that's not what they were asked. They were asked directly about Sinn Fein's handling of the issue, which was to call a rape victim a liar for daring to reveal she was treated in the same way Sinn Fein admits other victims were treated. So, stupid as well as callous. Never a winning combination, in either sense of the word.

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