Sinn Fein in the south: Slowly, slowly catchie monkey?

Good piece by Brian Feeney in today’s Irish News, with his nuanced take on Sinn Fein’s recent travels south of the border… In particular he focuses on what he views as the near hysterical response of the southern media to Martin McGuinness:

There is no doubt that some of them really believed that Martin McGuinness could win the Presidential election in defiance of all the polls and the certain fact that transfers would be needed to win, and that Sinn Fein does not attract sufficient numbers of transfers.

The fear was based partly on the fact that the electorate in the Republic is unpredictably volatile at present. The Tweedledee and Tweedledum of southern politics, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, have lost their way and while Fine Gael is in government with a huge number of TDs they have no coherent political aim other than to pay off the debt.

That vacuum (in conditions every bit as volatile as the people of the Republic) remains Sinn Fein’s abiding opportunity… However, Feeney goes on to point out that Sinn Fein do not have magical powers to attract votes, but they do have a record of working in the long term.

And that politics day to day for Sinn Fein in the Republic is carried by a younger generations like Pearse Doherty who unremittingly focus the economic exegeses of the southern state.

Slowly slowly, catchie monkey…

  • AGlassOfHine

    If the shinners couldn’t exploit the ‘perfect storm’,in southern irish politics at the Presidential Election,(and with 84% of the voters rejecting them),it’s more a case of slowly,slowly,catchie on ee !

  • J Kelly

    AGOH SF dont need to convince 86% of the electorate to vote for them to have a meaning impact and even be in government. In 2007 SF had less than 7% of the vote in 2011 they have doubled that, if they can keep that forward movement going they will slowly but surely become a major player in the political life of this island. The point that Brian Feeney and others are making is that SF are up for andcan play the long game. The difference with other parties is that their political fortunes are often tied to careerist who cant tink any further than the next election.

  • SethS

    “The point that Brian Feeney and others are making is that SF are up for and can play the long game. The difference with other parties is that their political fortunes are often tied to careerist who cant tink any further than the next election.”

    To me short-termism is one of the major issues affecting Irish politics in general in both an electoral and policy sense – I supose one way of putting it is that there are very few “statesmen” in Irish politics at present.

    Thing is whilst SF are clearly prepared to play a long game when it comes to electoral politics are they prepared to do the same on policy (other than the “national question”).

  • Decimus

    At the rate they are going it is very ‘slowly’ indeed. So slow in fact that their current leadership is likely to be in care by the time they make their big breakthrough.

    If they ever do what then? If we ever get to the stage were any of the constitutional parties in the ROI feel comfortable accepting them, as minority partners in a coalition government, then they will have travelled so far down the path of peaceful politics that they will be virtually indistinguishable from the rest of them.

    They certainly would not be in any position to forward the cause of a united Ireland. Any agitation for a UI on their part would be likely to see them kicked out of government.

    Slowly, slowly dumpee entire purpose of existence.

  • Neville Bagnall

    First, I think the southern electorate is predominantly conservative, much more than it is republican/nationalist/sectarian, the key enabler of Sinn Feins growth in the north (when coupled with the disintegration of the SDLP).

    Second, I don’t see much evidence that SF is attracting conservatively minded union/public sector voters. Labour pulled them in as FF imploded, but (amazingly enough) it is not a natural constituency for them, and I think FF have a good chance of winning them back after a political generation, unless Labour ups its game.

    If SF had moved to the right, into a more establishment/centrist/conservative economic position I thought it would have had a chance of attracting both Labour and FF voters. But I think the result in the bye-election suggests that strong Labour and FF candidates will be able to restrict the growth of a left-radical SF to certain geographic or economic areas.

    Of course, if the econo-political situation becomes sufficiently unstable that enough people re-evaluate their century long conservatism, anything could happen.

  • Zig70

    My take from the election and presidential campaign is that we are an embarassment to the south. debt ridden crazies that constantly bicker amongst ourselves.We’ve lower wages and less industry. SF will need to make NI a desirable place and turn around its image in the south in order to acheive its goal.

  • AGlassOfHine

    Exactly right Neville.
    FF will be in Government again within a political generation.
    The shinners thought they say an opportunity in the Presidential Election.
    They thought they could send down a foreigner to mop up the FF votes.
    They thought their most ‘charismatic’ ‘member’,would hold the mask in place long enough to win.
    They thought wrong.
    13% of first preference votes was dismal.
    In circumstances that will never be so opportune again.
    They thought they were playing the Ace…… turned out to be a Joker.
    Slowly,slowly watchie whither away.

  • socaire

    I can’t wait for the poppy thread to start!!!!!

  • socaire,

    It seems that it isn’t going to happen this year, thankfully, although the debate elbowed its way in slightly on another thread.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Brian Feeney’s articles are getting a bit ridiculous. Apart from anything else, I couldnt help thinking, “why is this the opinion piece today when the election was two weeks ago”. Was it just a slow day.

    But one point that I pick up is this idea that the republic’s media or chattering classes or whatever dismissive description he gives them are hysterical in their reaction to McGuinness. Is it not more likely that it is the people desensitized in the North who are the unusual ones.

    Theres this idea that Sinn Fein can draw the sting and that the criticism will wear out. It wont. It did in the north because of fatigue, because our politics is unusual and because people have been programed to compromise.

  • Abu Mikhail74

    Oh God not this again. Another sophistry-fest where we’re told SF is doomed because their vote went up. I’m away before the poppies lurch into view like triffids.
    J Kelly, don’t even waste your time quoting percentages at them. 13 is a smaller number than 10 here in Sluggerworld. This crowd must become depressed when they get a pay rise. “You mean my boss is increasing my wages by 30%? No!! This is a disaster!”

  • There’s something amiss when we ex-pats/the diaspora cannot easily access the Irish News. That’s not because we need to agree with its stance, but simply because voices like Feeney’s need to be accessible (even if — hint, hint — a day in arrears).

    For myself, I admit to be taken aback by McGuinness’s excursion into the Presidential — if only because I believed it to be well stitched up. Even so, he comported himself “as well as could be expected”. The stiletto, when delivered, was well-timed, well-delivered, and (from where I sit) well-deserved. That alone was value for the investment.

    For those who (with other reasons — all valid) disagree, consider the longer-term political contexts.

    But Mick’s bottom-line about “a younger generations like Pearse Doherty” is spot-on correct. When SF has fostered its “clean-skins” — and a few memories have, quite literally, died — you are seeing the future. I’ll not throw in the rest of Lincoln Steffens’s (not wholly misjudged) remark. Just watch, and see SF progressively carving out a place in the republican (RoI) / nationalist (NI) middle-ground.

    [I just hope the ex-Young Unionist Lady in My Life doesn’t read this.]

  • Erasmus

    I personally resent the insinuation, which has become common currency since the election, that *not* voting for Sinn Féin somehow implies disaffection from NI nationalism and hostility to the concept of a UI.
    Another general point: party political strengths cannot be inferred from this election which was largely a personality concept. Nobody would seriously suggest, for example , that Labour are seven times as strong on the ground as FG. Michael D. Higgins, a fluent Irish speaker and a republican socialist, is bound to have attracted support from many who would ordinarily vote Sinn Féin. I am not a Sinn Féin supporter by the way.

  • Alias

    Slowly slowly, catchie cobwebs and then rigor mortis…

    The Shinners did extremely poorly in both the general and presidential elections wherein the public was actively searching for alternatives to the mainstream parties. When they can’t do well in those optimum conditions, there is no basis to believe that the public will ever buy what they are selling even if a slick salesman is produced to sell it.

    Like the PDs and the Greens before them, slowly slowly catches political death.

  • John Ó Néill

    SF can easily argue that the increase in support in the Presidential election is consistent with the pattern over the last few years. The party still needs to build up some constituency organisations to be in a position to make realistic challenges for local authority seats (in about 18 months or so) and then use that as a platform for further gains in the next general election. The performance of SF in constituencies like Clare (where it didn’t field in February) may be a hint towards how the party deported it’s machine last month.

    I still suspect that any planning could be interrupted by another general election next year. Fine Gael have a tendency to terminal hypersensitivity and Labour taking the Aras plus Dublin West with FG taking a hit hasn’t gone down well. Similarly, Labour ministers have fronted anti-cuts rallys. Now the FG justice minister, Alan Shatter, appears to being targeted by the press after a spat with Labour minister Brendan Howlin. The budget in December could put the coalition in some difficulty.

  • damon

    The problem with the article is the way … ” he views as the near hysterical response of the southern media to Martin McGuinness”.

    I don’t think it was hysterical at all. Who would want a gangster as the president of their country?
    It would be like how a parent would feel if their daughter announced she was to marry the local tough guy who was suspected of also being a thug and a criminal.

  • Barry the Blender

    As a unionist looking in, I would say that Sinn Fein’s recent electoral performance in the Irish Free State is, from their own point of view, encouraging. And when I mean recently, I mean over the last couple of years rather that the last few weeks. The figures speak for themselves: from 1 seat in the House of Commons of Southern Ireland in 1997 to 14 now is impressive stuff.
    Sure there have been setbacks, losing Sean Crowe in 2007 and Mary Lou McDonald from that great seat of European Democracy in 2009, but those do look like blips now.

    In my view saying that Sinn Fein are doing rubbish when they clearly aren’t may be comforting to oneself but no more than that.

    I hope I’m being reasonably fair here. I would like to give something to the people who sit at the table where Sinn Fein’s Decisions are made (I’m not sure if they still call it the Army Council or not). The question that Sinn Fein’s top command must pose is that if they want to succeed in the (illegally occupied) 26 counties should they really be importing Northerners? There biggest PR coup, of course I mean the Donegal South West By election cam with a young, articularte, southern, baggage free non provo. Wouldn’t they be better touting more of the same?

  • Alias

    It’s a non-sequitur to argue that the Shinners would become a mainstream party if they changed leaders.

    They would certainly be less repulsive as a party to those voters who won’t vote for people who organised hundreds of sectarian murders, but while those voters won’t vote for a leadership that has blood on hands they won’t vote a party just because it hasn’t.

    It really isn’t much of a sales pitch to say “Vote for me because I wasn’t a member of PIRA” (even when the statement is true). There has to be reasons to vote for a political party beyond its leaders not being mass-murderers. Those reasons are absent in the case of the Shinners.

    There is simply no market demand for the Shinners beyond a small core group. If the Shinners had anything alternative to offer the voters then they would not have been rejected by them at a time when those voters were actively searching for that alternative.

    They are useful in NI as controllers of the Catholic group up there but they have no such function “down here.” If fact, there role down here (that place Marty wanted to be president of) is a subfunction of their role up there, i.e. to pretend that they have a unity strategy. That’s why the servile NI media to that process are saying “Didn’t they do well” when they did extremely poorly.

  • JH

    “It’s a non-sequitur to argue that the Shinners would become a mainstream party if they changed leaders. ”

    They have 14 TDs, 3 Senators, 29 MLAs, 5 MPs and an MEP as well as hundreds of councillors. How are they anything but a mainstream party?!

  • Alias

    You’re counting two seperate jurisdictions. 14 out of 166 TDs makes them a fringe party.

  • JH

    Well I’m counting three separate jurisdictions actually…

    14 TDs and 3 Senators makes them a mainstream party IMO. Almost enough to nominate a presidential candidate ;J

  • Alias

    “Almost enough to nominate a presidential candidate”

    Actually, it wasn’t. Marty had to stand as an independent candiate because the Shinners fell short of the number (20) of TDs and Senators that a party must have to nominate a president.

  • Alias

    I missed the “almost” there – sorry.

  • Barry the Blender

    14 seats out of 166 would be equivalent to about 55 seats in the Westminster Parliament. The Liberal Democrats have 57…

  • “unremittingly focus the economic exegeses of the southern state.”

    It’s relatively easy to be an attack dog but the SF ministers have proved themselves to be donkeys in the Stormont dysfunctional administration.

    Surely Ireland needs folks of competence during these dire economic times. Are people of star quality opting out of the political process there much as they have done here? Mind you, if folks in the USA vote for a George Bush presidency perhaps the political malaise is of global proportions.

    “near hysterical response of the southern media to Martin McGuinness”

    Perhaps Marcon in the Southern Star got a bit closer to the reality of the ‘slow crawl through a sewer’ during the Presidential campaign, one in which a ‘gutter press’ approach was used to dig deep for any dirt that could be found; Martin wasn’t the only one who got the treatment. Media folks ‘do not disclose they are activists with an agenda’ and some revelled in ‘unconcealed bias, prejudice and lurid sensationalism’.

    “Tweedledee and Tweedledum”

    Isn’t SF out of the same stable as FF and FG?

    I’ll not speculate on the agendas of these two old foxes but ‘Tweedledum’ confidently predicted that the man who came in third would become the new leader of the SDLP. My friends and I are trying to pump a little iron into the nice guy who came fourth. 🙂

    “Slowly slowly, catchie monkey…”

    I think I can confidently predict that fans of parapolitics will continue the same old three monkeys routine but I hope that the Irish electorate will opt for the frying pan rather than the fire – in the interests of decency and democracy. They could do with a full Irish breakfast to sustain them. Oh for a good old Ulster fry 🙂

  • Cynic2

    “Slowly slowly, catchie monkey…”

    The problem for SF is that its more like a Yeti than a monkey

  • Harry Flashman

    “14 seats out of 166 would be equivalent to about 55 seats in the Westminster Parliament. The Liberal Democrats have 57…”

    Dail Eireann has a proportional representation system of election while the House of Commons operates on a first past the post system so it is not accurate to compare the two. The Lib Dems have a substantially higher percentage of the popular vote in the UK than SF does in the Republic.

  • AGlassOfHine

    I smile contentedly at some posters ‘head in the sand’ policy.
    The shinners played their ‘trump card’,at a time of near perfect conditions for them to make progress.
    87% of first preference voters rejected them.
    Meanwhile,’slowly,slowly,catchie monkey’ style,FF recover.
    I think it’s high time the shinners and the sdlp faced up to the reality that our Southern neighbours are more than happy with their lot.
    They have quite enough foreign interference,without Northern Marty butting in.

  • FuturePhysicist

    “The Tweedledee and Tweedledum of southern politics, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, have lost their way and while Fine Gael is in government with a huge number of TDs they have no coherent political aim other than to pay off the debt”

    I think these comments show that Brian Feeney lives in a fantasy world. Fine Gael could have the entire Dail as Sinn Féin once did and still not be able to do much in the short term to solve recessions, as Sinn Féin once did. I speak of course of the Sinn Féin who was the father of “Tweedledum and Tweedledee”

    Fine Gael and Labour are tackling the deficit by providing further education places, work experience, tax cuts, public works, banking restructuring and recapitalisation and Irish export market remains healthy. They’ve also lowered politicians and lawyer’s pay.

    The problem you fail to realise is that the extreme exposure to foreign events limits the capacity of this government, but it still is doing well.

  • Abu Mikhail74

    Good point Flashy, I think the LD’s got about 24% of the vote in the UK but only about 15% of the seats- a good argument on the unfairness of the FPTP system but definitely ‘mainstream’.
    SF can’t be called a ‘mainstream’ party in the South… yet. One in eight voters isn’t quite enough, one in six, however, which is how some polls have the party (rather than MMG)… Yeah, that’ll do it.
    As far as Hine’s ‘near perfect conditions to make progress’… but these near-perfect conditions will continue for at least five budgets and probably ten. And all the while Labour has to portray itself as the people’s own shock-absorber for FG’s neo-liberal economic policies. “It’ll be so much worse without us, lads! They’ll lose the run of themselves entirely!” That worked brilliantly for the PD’s, didn’t it?
    Labour missed an amazing opportunity after the election in February: if they’d insisted on a referendum on the so-called bailout before forming a govt. they’d have either ended up the tail wagging the FG dog or (much, much better for them) would have forced FG into coalition with FF and thereby created the Right-Left split in Irish politics that’s been lacking since the foundation of the state.
    A missed opportunity that they will surely rue. But it’s difficul to blame them: it’s hard to focus on the long game when the ministerial merc is tootling its lovely horn outside the door.
    Any Sluggerites care to take bets on Labour making 20% after five years of imposed austerity? Not a chance, imo.
    I’ve posted on this before, but the people saying SF are targetting votes from FF are fooling themselves. What do the parties have in common, other than that their supporters all sing ‘Sean South’ when they’re p**sed?
    For SF, it’s Labour. That’s the target, nothing else. And right now (and for the foreseeable future) Labour is a gazelle with a wooden leg and a glass eye, trundling across the savannah as Gerry the Cheetah and Mary Lou the Friendly Leopard begin to salivate.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    SF won’t grow substantially in the Republic unless they improve their pool of electoral candidates. Mediocre would be a kind description. They can’t keep shoving Pearse Doherty and Mary Lou McDonald out all the time. And to be honest, Mary Lou might be the apple of Gerry’s eye but unless she’s shooting at a sitting duck she’s poor enough as well.

  • Barry the Blender

    Dail Eireann has a proportional representation system of election while the House of Commons operates on a first past the post system so it is not accurate to compare the two. The Lib Dems have a substantially higher percentage of the popular vote in the UK than SF does in the Republic.

    The point was more about parliamentary clout.

    Anyhow, on current polling the Lib Dems are unlikely to get much more than 10%. Just about what SF got in the GE, and less that Marty for the presidency. Noone’s going to argue that they aren’t mainstream in Great Britain.

  • Like it or not (and the diehards here won’t accept the obvious — I’m not sure I like it myself), SF has a long-term building strategy.

    This was the most open, the most small-p political Presidential ever. The result, from where I sit, was the predictable, considered, right and proper one.

    McGuinness ran third, and took 13.7% of first preferences — better than twice that of FG. Only south of the Liffey and the commuter towns of Kildare did the bourgeoisie hold their noses and vote elsewhere — then look at those constituencies where the SF vote rose to the higher teens, and beyond. Notice anything?. That is why Barry the Blender has a point, though the analogy with GB politics is irrelevant.

    Looking ahead, the glaring obvious truth is that SF has to carve further and further into the soggy-left, and the territory of the avowedly “republican party” (i.e in Ireland, the “populist” vote). Especially while Labour will sag as a party of government. the latent toxicity of FF remains. SF’s opportunities are there, which is why Tochais Síoraí is also valid.

    Without predicting the weekend’s lottery numbers, I would suggest the SF strategists are very, very content with the present situation.

    Oh, and by the way, SF probably have the finance for the next effort. Can any other party say the same?

  • AGlassOfHine

    Never before in the history of sf,abject failure,has so much bollox been written by so few,and swallowed by even fewer.
    To borrow an analogy…… gerry the Gerbil,war weary,constantly confused,licking his wounds,and searching desperately for a memory of past successes……..lies wounded in the bog,he lifts his grizzly aul head and gazes in the Northerly direction of his homeland.
    He peers through tired eyes towards Stormont,that hated symbol he had sworn to bring down. *whimpers*
    He shuffles around,and turns South.
    ‘Surely’,he thinks,’marty the Mouse will be made welcome here. Surely,our time has come…….’

    Those Two words keep reverberating back,mockingly………….*Abject Failure*.

    But worry ye not,after 30 years of bloody murder and mayhem,they are now in the ‘game’ for the long haul.

    Good luck with that lads. But going on previous form,the promised land is even farther away than when you first started.

    ” Where did it all go wrong” ? 😉

  • Decimus

    ” Where did it all go wrong” ?

    There are a lot of candidates for that one, but few as stark as the Enniskillen War Memorial.