February 02, 2020
Is Sinn Fein the Irish anti-establishment vote?
This last week before the Irish elections is going to be interesting after all. Sinn Féin is now neck-to-neck with Fianna Fáil at 24%, ahead of Fine Gael with 21% according to the latest Business Post/Red C opinion poll. None of the two main parties had seen it coming and this development will shake up an otherwise lacklustre campaign. Is this the anti-establishment moment for Ireland that we have seen elsewhere in Europe?
Young people in particular wish to see change in the classic two-party system. Ireland did not have a movement similar to Podemos or Syriza. The young support a united Ireland and are not burdened by memories of the Troubles or the role of the IRA, of which Sinn Féin was the political arm. The once hard-left Sinn Féin has also softened its profile over the years, and its leader Mary Lou McDonald is particularly good at putting her message across to attract broader support.
For those without memory of the past, Sinn Féin's role in Northern Ireland just adds to the picture. Leading politicians of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil used to urge Sinn Féin to sit down and form a government in Northern Ireland, but at the same time they dismiss any suggestion that Sinn Féin could become part of the government in the Republic. Now that a government with Sinn Fein is a finally reality in the North, why not in the Republic?
Expect some intense exchanges this last week of campaigning. The governing Fine Gael is split over whether to continue to attack Sinn Féin as not a normal party, or to shift focus onto their policies, or to concentrate their efforts on attacking Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael was counting on capitalising on its handling of Brexit, Northern Ireland and the booming economy, but this is going nowhere as voters seem more concerned about health, homelessness and an uncontrollable housing boom. Fianna Fáil was confidently leading the polls so far with its spending promises. It will use the poll to tell voters that supporting them is the only way to keep Sinn Féin out of power, in hope of mobilising voters this way. Both parties rely on Project Fear. Sinn Féin, meanwhile, is sailing on an upward current. MacDonald said yesterday they were open to all forms of coalitions, but that the best outcome would be one without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.