You do get a sense that the next Irish general election, all bets are off. Sinn Fein misfortune last time our, over which some Dublin based journalists taunted them mercilessly after the last election, and Mark Hennessey’s ‘Tallaght effect’ (see link for reference) seem now to be in rapid reverse. The former feel good effect for taxi drivers and new mortgage holders has dissipated and feel good is now feel very bad indeed.
So, according to Noel Whelan things are set rather differently for Sinn Fein in next year’s election:
The impact of this shift may see Sinn Féin gain its largest representation in Dáil Éireann to date. The party fell from a high of five seats in 2002 to 4 in 2007 but could, on these poll figures, be set for more than a dozen seats in 2011.
The party’s capacity to capitalise on this surge has been greatly assisted by the fact that it coincides with two significant happenings for Sinn Féin. The Pearse Doherty win in Donegal South West and the decision to deploy Gerry Adams south of the Border came just at the right time with the former likely to prove more significant for the party’s improved positioning in the Republic than the latter.
Although only a wet week in the Dáil, Doherty has already made a significant impression as the party’s new finance spokesman.
In considering how real the momentum for the growth of the “fourth bloc” might be, it is worth noting that two of the three byelections held since 2007 were won by such candidates: Doherty in Donegal South West and O’Sullivan who succeeded Tony Gregory in Dublin Central. Even in Dublin South in June 2009, the only byelection won by a main party was won by a non-political candidate, George Lee.
And he gives an idea of where the fresh intake is likely to spring from:
Sinn Féin got more than half a quota in nine constituencies last time out. These include, obviously, the four where it retained seats, namely, Cavan-Monaghan, Louth, Dublin South Central and Kerry North.
The others are Dublin South West where Sean Crowe lost out, Donegal South West, Donegal North East, Dublin North West and Dublin Mid West. Sinn Féin also secured almost a half quota in Sligo-Leitrim North.
In four other constituencies, Sinn Féin put in a mediocre performance but could still contend for a seat next time. David Cullinane polled just over a third of a quota in Waterford, which is more open this time around.
Maurice Quinlavin got only a quarter of a quota in Limerick East but has had a much-enhanced profile since, not least because of his cameo role in Willie O’Dea’s fall from Cabinet. Brian Stanley got 0.4 of a quota in Laois-Offaly in 2007 but recent polling shows him improving dramatically.
Whelan points out too that with a larger fourth bloc of left leaning independents, this could come to quite a vocal platform for the next Dail. And possibly afford Sinn Fein the opportunity to repair some of the damage inflicted on their council level party machines in the next local elections.
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