The new poll showing Sinn Fé in’s 10-point lead over the next largest party, Fine Gael, was to me both shocking and not shocking.
Shocking because I’ll never understand how voters ignore Sinn Féin’s continuing celebration of terrorism or believe a word of its magical money-tree-funded promises.
Not shocking because what else does the Fine Gael leadership expect with their carry-on?
Just last week, former Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris, who was convicted of attempting to import explosives in 1984, spoke at a memorial event for an IRA terrorist. Ferris said that IRA terrorists were not criminals.
Yes, they were. Ferris was imprisoned for his crimes. The terrorists who bombed, assassinated, kidnapped and executed people were all criminals.
The peace process will never change what they did and never justify any of it.
Some say this is all in the past. But the new generation of Sinn Féin TDs
– Ó Broin, Doherty, Carthy, McDonald – had a choice to join other political parties. None has a single policy idea that couldn’t find a home alongside other Irish politicians who never were terrorists and don’t support terrorism.
Who becomes Justice Minister in a Sinn Féin government and what does that mean for the gardaí the IRA were killing not so long ago?
The polls tell us nearly a third of voters don’t care. But two-thirds do. At least there’s that.
And so to Fine Gael. This is the party of Garret FitzGerald, who recruited a generation of prominent feminists to lead his liberal crusade. Who resolutely opposed the venal Haughey, while others pretended they didn’t know what he was.
It’s the party of John Bruton, who argued there can be no united Ireland unless we persuade the unionists they’ll be safe in it. He was right then, and he’s still right.
It’s the party of Enda Kenny, whose extraordinary resilience dragged the country out of the financial crisis into a recovery that made fools of the celebrity prophets of doom. When the Failed Staters predicted the EU would throw Ireland under a bus for Brexit, his credibility across Europe built a firm consensus that put Ireland’s needs top of the Brexit negotiations.
People knew what Fine Gael stood for: pro-Europe, fiscal responsibility and maturity on Northern Ireland.
What is Fine Gael now? Between the last election and the formation of the current government, Covid hit us and we had a few months of fine government. Political gamesmanship was abandoned and the caretaker cabinet led an extraordinary state intervention to manage the crisis.
Since then, once the inner circle secured their cabinet seats, they seem to have forgotten the party has lost 43 seats since 2011.
If 43 seats isn’t enough, what will it take to get them to accept that maybe they’re doing something wrong?
The last few weeks exposed precisely how they’ve lost their way.
Do they think we don’t know we’ve one of the highest per capita debt levels in the world that cost us €5bn last year to service? Did anyone take the National Development Plan seriously? What was Leo Varadkar doing promising half the public sector a pandemic bonus?
Who’s going to pay for it? The folks in live entertainment? The hoteliers and restaurateurs who threw out thousands of euro in food? The minimum wage retail workers and care assistants in private nursing homes? The hairdressers?
His wild promises were so ludicrous, even public sector employees were embarrassed by them.
Fine Gael’s only saving grace has been Paschal Donohoe’s assured handling of the negotiations with the OECD on corporation tax.
What about Northern Ireland? This week, national treasure Colm Tóibín identified recent statements by Fine Gael ministers about a “united Ireland in our lifetime” as blather. It’s worse than that. It encourages and legitimises toxic nationalist rhetoric that, as we have seen in the UK and US, explodes all too easily with appalling consequences.
The President’s refusal to attend the church service to mark the formation of Northern Ireland justifies every single unionist fear that a border poll would become a nasty, sectarian free-for-all. The fact that most people supported his refusal doesn’t mean he was right. It merely demonstrates widespread ignorance of both the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
Varadkar seems determined to compete with Sinn Féin fiscal populism and tribalistic nationalism. But populist Fine Gael is a product no one wants to buy.
It often looks like Varadkar’s weakness is over-sensitivity to the media, a question mark over what he actually believes in, and lack of loyalty to his own people.
He has a reputation for consistently leaking and the way he turned on Phil Hogan last year was both personally shocking and destructive to Ireland’s interests. Giving the media a head on a plate always leaves a sour taste behind. Enda Kenny made that mistake with Alan Shatter.
But perhaps much of this doesn’t matter in the end. Were it not for Sinn Féin being the only means of an alternative government, Fine Gael could have and should have gone into opposition after the last election. Fine Gael always provided an alternative to Fianna Fáil. Now Fianna Fáil is too weak to provide an alternative to Fine Gael.
It all feels like 1981. Those who feared Haughey were sneered at but proven right. Perhaps like Haughey, Sinn Féin is unstoppable. But like Haughey, no one can say they weren’t warned.