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Mary Lou McDonald could well be the Irish version of Donald Trump

Philip Ryan


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Soundbites: Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald at a press briefing to set out the party’s core priorities for Government yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Soundbites: Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald at a press briefing to set out the party’s core priorities for Government yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Soundbites: Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald at a press briefing to set out the party’s core priorities for Government yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Mary Lou McDonald could well be the Irish version of Donald Trump. Like Trump, the Sinn Féin leader has become an unlikely lightning rod for a brooding anger among those who feel left behind.

She has benefited from and has now become Brexit - an outlet for the disillusioned to lash out at the establishment. McDonald is a megaphone for those who feel their protests are falling on deaf ears.

Yesterday, this anger was portrayed in the 'Business Post'/Red C opinion poll which had Sinn Féin (24pc) and Fianna Fáil (24pc) level on support while Fine Gael (21pc) trailed behind them.

No one saw this coming, least of all Sinn Féin or Mary Lou McDonald. The party is only running 42 candidates, which is half the number on offer from Fine Gael, 84, and Fianna Fáil, 82.

The party's election ticket was drafted in the aftermath of its disastrous local and European election results.

It played it safe with a lot of its candidate selections and will regret having not run more now that public support is swaying in its direction.

But it didn't predict this would happen.

We should have seen it coming but I think most people with any skin in the game, be that in politics or the media, would accept they didn't. For the past four years, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have talked about how the centre should hold.

They looked down their noses at the chaos that engulfed British politics post-Brexit. It could never happen here, they said.

They were aghast at the election of Donald Trump to the White House. A divisive populist would never be voted into office here, they said.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have divvied up power between them for more than 100 years. As much as they'd like you to believe the opposite, they finally came together to run the country over the last four years. They passed budgets together. Prepared for Brexit together. And for the most part, they got on famously.

There's no major ideological difference between them. They are the centre ground.

Fine Gael slightly to the right and Fianna Fáil slightly to the left when it suits them, but neither side is interested in radical politics.

Keep people happy and hopefully keep their votes. Easy does it all the way.

But while the two parties believed the centre was holding, more and more people were bedding down at night in doorways. Farmers were bringing the capital to a standstill over beef prices.

Young people were living in cramped, overpriced apartments. Home ownership was no longer a reality for many. Meanwhile, parents were forking out most of their salaries on crèche fees. The list of the maligned kept growing.

It would be unfair not to mention the record low unemployment figures and the growing economy. But jobs don't pay what they used to or provide the necessary security to live a stable life.

Meanwhile, along comes McDonald offering every tenant a month's free rent every year. She says she'll abolish your property tax and slash your USC. And you'll be able to draw down your State pension when you're 65. Pension time-bomb fear-mongers can go to hell and take their demographic statistics about an ageing population with them.

What's not to like? And sure the rich and the tech companies will pay for it all. Either that or they'll up sticks and move to China.

Sinn Féin's polices and promises are very appealing to the disenfranchised angry voter. McDonald is also a very capable debater and knows the benefits of a cutting soundbite. She has bags of them.

But like with Trump, there is an aspect of McDonald being in the right place at the right time with the right soundbites.

Sure who likes paying taxes, rent or contributing to your pension fund? No one.

Also, her main rival based on the opinion polls, Micheál Martin, isn't exactly a radical new face on the political scene. If you're looking for change, Martin, who spent 14 years in cabinet, could hardly be considered a breath of fresh air with no political baggage. He's the Hillary Clinton to McDonald's Trump and we all know how that ended. The parties will ramp up their attacks on McDonald in the coming days.

There will be warnings of Sinn Féin heading up a Marxist coalition of the left. Project fear will be unleashed on its economic policies.

There will be pleas to voters to hold the centre ground. Voters will be told everything will be OK if they just give the Civil War parties another go. Don't risk voting for the unknown. Politicians issued the same warnings about Brexit and Trump, but voters weren't interested in being lectured about how they should vote. They took the risk and dealt with the outcomes.

The same could be about to happen here, and as with the UK and US, the consequences could be lasting.

Irish Independent