It has long been apparent that last week’s elections were simply a stopping point for this year’s main event for Sinn Fein. Indeed Noel Whelan on Saturday picked up some of the early media strategy (subs needed) in the result programmes, in which their front men/women were two of the people they hope will rejuvenate their small team of Deputies in the Oireachtas. However, in the meantime, he warns, the Green Party has been digging in. Sinn Fein may find blocking further progress, in Dublin at least.
With no more votes to be got for their candidates North of the Border, their choice of spokespeople for election count programmes through Thursday and Friday owed everything to southern political considerations. Mary Lou McDonald, who is now fronting their endeavour to win a seat in Dublin Central, was their representative on RTÉ’s election coverage. On UTV their spokesman was Pearse Doherty, who would have been unrecognisable to most Northern Ireland viewers but will, because of this exposure, be better known in Donegal where the channel has a relatively large viewership.
“…a lot will also depend on the coverage the party manages to attract in the media. Much of that coverage will be generated by events in Northern Ireland. However, there will also be more scrutiny of its policy proposals for the Republic. Interestingly, Gerry Adams’s ardfheis speech last weekend had a greater focus on southern political issues than in previous years, but most of what he had to say about issues like health and equality was bland and negative.
“Indeed, many interviews which Gerry Adams did over the ardfheis weekend were a tale of two halves. When asked about the Northern Ireland elections, Adams was fluent, informed, specific and competent. However, when the interviewers changed tack and asked him about Sinn Féin’s policy position for the general election down South, Adams was evasive, vague and even incoherent. One exchange between Adams and Bryan Dobson on RTÉ’s Week in Politics was almost comical.
He believes the party faces another hill to climb to get out of the minor position it is currently in:
There is no reason to believe that the party will necessarily get an additional bounce here now for finally signing up to policing and even for re-establishment of a powersharing executive if that happens before May. Sinn Féin’s strong performance in Wednesday’s Assembly elections and the poor vote for dissident candidates standing on platforms opposing support for policing will leave many in the Republic wondering why it took SF so long to cross the policing Rubicon.
Although SF support has topped out in the polls, it still sits several percentage points above its vote share in the 2002 Dáil election. They should hold all their current seats, although the intensity of the competition in Kerry North, Dublin South Central and even Dublin South West means that this is not a foregone conclusion.
There are also half a dozen constituencies where the party is well-positioned to challenge for new Dáil seats – the two Donegal constituencies, four constituencies in Dublin. The party also has outside chances in Wexford, Waterford and even in the new Meath West three-seater.
There is, however, another dynamic developing which could also operate against a dramatic rise in support for SF and that is the rise of the Green Party. A surge for the Greens is the one clearly discernible shift in the electorate during this “phoney war” stage of election campaign. SF fishes in the same pool for some of the younger and/or anti-establishment votes and a Green surge narrows the space for Sinn Féin growth.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty