Saturday 18 January 2020

Johnny Fallon: Sinn Fein get poll boost for opposing everything, while in the North they're the ones making the cuts

Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Tom Burke
Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Tom Burke

TODAY''S opinion poll makes gloomy reading for Fianna Fail and the Labour party. Sinn Fein on the other hand will be delighted. In many respects, however, it will be met with a sigh of relief by Sinn Fein. There has never been a better time for the party, Fianna Fail are at the lowest ebb in their history, Labour are under pressure in government and Fine Gael seem to be deserting the centre to become more right wing every day.

In such an environment Sinn Fein, untainted by government, should be ploughing very fertile ground.

Their failure to put daylight between themselves and Fianna Fail, or Labour, has been something of a conundrum but today they will feel that they might just have solved it.

When one stands back from the picture it’s not hard to understand why SF are doing well. Their success centres around three core advantages. The first is trust, despite those who wish to throw their history in their face, Sinn Fein have managed to use their younger faces well. In an age of tribunals and perceived corruption there is a sense that Sinn Fein are not part of that culture. The electorate believe them to offer something new, but the problem is that such perceptions can change very quickly and SF will have to be on their guard, they are stepping into the limelight and they should know all too well what that means.

Nobody would have asked about what Sean Gallagher did while he was on 10pc, but once you become a contender everything changes.

The second part of the SF success at the moment stems from the fact that they do oppose everything. Many people are very frustrated, many people are watching stories of new bills and taxes coming and they simply do not have this money to spend. SF offers a chance that something new might just be possible. During the boom ears we never wanted to believe it would end. If the government told us it was ok then we bought that. If the only way the government could get re-elected was to spend massive amounts of money, then they convinced themselves it was the right thing to do and we equally bought into that.

During the last election FF had no more cards to play and started to tell people exactly what was coming. FG and Labour saw their chance and in an election they could have won at a canter they promised us everything. Again we bought it and now quite a few seem to be regretting it.

The problem for the electorate is that they will have to judge if they are now doing the same thing again? SF must prove that they can and will implement their policies because right now it looks like an attempt to convince the disaffected to run to their flag by convincing them that a new alternative is possible. The electorate do love to believe that this may be the case as successive elections have proven. The question is will we just be disappointed again?

The final element in the SF figures is the fact that they are the one party that has never been in government. In Northern Ireland they have shown themselves to be quite happy with cuts and centrist decisions. In the Republic they say things would be different.

We have never seen the SF faces around the government table here, they have never taken money out of our pockets and the old feeling that 'they couldn't be any worse' is strong. There is a portion of the electorate that will always want change of any kind in the hope that it will change everything.

SF should be very happy, however. Despite huge opposition they have proven themselves to be genuine contenders with a message that is beginning to resonate with the public. FG will be happy enough though, despite falling in the poll their ratings are still among the most healthy in their entire history.

For Labour and Fianna Fail, it’s back to the drawing board.

Labour must establish itself in government and try to haul back that left wing vote. FF must accept that new faces and new ideas are needed. Micheál Martin must appoint the people who can deliver this and as a party they must accept that meeting the standards and requirements laid down by law is not enough. FF must become above suspicion, throw open their books, vouch everything and become the party that goes above and beyond when it comes to financial practice.

To some in the party that may seem unfair, but it is the price they must pay for the transgressions of the past. Most of all, both internally and among the nation at large, FF must start to hold people accountable for wrong decisions. Those decisions must be pointed out and proof given that FF has a new team that has learned something.

One thing is for sure that while all parties will wait to see if this poll is reflected by others, it is certainly a warning shot across the bows.

Polls like this create tensions in government and if the pattern continues we are in for a very stormy political year.

Johnny Fallon is a political consultant

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