… in terms of noise and output, Sinn Féin has proved more effective.

Following on from yesterday’s piece on Fianna Fáil that Mick flagged up, today the Irish Times continued with Paul Cullen looking at the Opposition with a brief analysis of Sinn Féin’s performance to date (in one of two pieces on the IT website, for more see below).  It suggests that:

On numbers alone, a much diminished Fianna Fáil can still claim to lead the Opposition – but in terms of noise and output, Sinn Féin has proved more effective.

The party has five fewer deputies than Fianna Fáil but its overall input into Dáil proceedings is often more telling and media-savvy.

The strength of its leadership derives from its mix of old and young and the fact that, for the first time, the party has its leader in the chamber.

While it is suggested that Gerry Adams performance has improved over the year, it picks out a number of TDs, including Mary Lou McDonald,  Peadar Tóibín, Sandra McLellan and Jonathan O’Brien as among Sinn Féin’s most effective as well as Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman, Pearse Doherty who it considers as:

… the party’s star turn since the election, speaking with a fluency and confidence that belies his 34 years. Less austere in person than his public persona would indicate, Doherty sometimes seems stuck permanently in angry mode. His mastery of a complex brief is assured, but the challenge for him in the next year will be to develop the party’s economic policies in a way that will attract broader support.

Cullen doesn’t really speculate on how or where Sinn Féin may seek to develope it’s vote over the life of the 31st Dáil. There is the recurring suggestion that it is simply looking to fill the space where Fianna Fáil used to lie (as Mick mentioned yesterday). But the other option for the party is to expand its reach by complementing its visible activism at a local level on social issues with other approaches, such as increasing it’s on-line presence at local level to circumvent the regional press that often remains aloof to all but FG/FF (even for Labour), making it’s organisation of Ógra groupings at third level colleges more consistent and trying to grow a vote and political dynamic independently of simply becoming a Fianna Fáil nua.

 In the longer article, Cullen makes the same general point, although in cruder terms:

The party now has the talent, State funding and research capability to meet these challenges, but it also has to come out of the ghetto.

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  • cynic2

    What a pity that in de Nurth they have proved the opposite as ministers

  • ordinary joe

    ‘Cullen doesn’t really speculate on how or where Sinn Fein may seek to develop its vote over the life of the 31st Dail.’

    Paul Cullen seems to do just that in the longer and harder-edged piece in today’s Irish Times: “Party must come out of the ghetto if it wants to replace Fianna Fail as national political movement”. It’s also linked on Newshound.

  • FuturePhysicist

    I want decibel units … there’s no way Mary Lou McDonnell can outshout Willie O’Dea!

  • Mick Fealty

    Cullen’s right about the new talent and about the presence in the Dail. And that if they to advance further, they must get out if the ghetto. The rest of his analysis is thin.

    The encouraging thing from SF’s point of view are the polls. They not only have the seats, they have have the consistent poll numbers too to comfortably hold on to what they have and bite into Labour.

    If they get out of the ghetto.

    I don’t agree, and this was my point in the piece that John links to, that SF’s advance, as is widely assumed in the southern media, will come at the expense of FF.

    I’ve not looked at seat analysis in detail, but FF’s urban assets are few and far between. Thats where SF are best placed to roll forward in numbers.

    A large amount of their rural seat loses went Blue. Those voters are not coming to SF any time soon: one, because SF cannot manufacture the kind of national machine necessary to pull that off in one election cycle; and two, if you can bring yourself to swing to FG what are the chances you will go from there to Gerry’s radical babes?

    Why do you think SF have out noised FF? Youthful vigour perhaps. The import of back room talent from Stormont (which disappointingly he makes no mention of). And the fact that in this early phase the govt are largely following FF/Green policies.

    Whilst tactical and populist wins like McGrath’s still register for them, FF Deputies and Senators are spending a lot of time away from Leinster House trying rebuild the party in the country. Thus the lack of noise in the chamber from that quarter.

    This is a long haul game.

    SF are right to invest in the Oireachtas end of the party because that’s where it’s perceived to be at its weakest. Although economic policy is still being made on the hoof, and is less than convincing to those who take the time to look at it.

    As, by the time of the next election, those outside the ghetto undoubtedly will .

    The Presidential election tells us that there is a lot of poke left in the FF brand and that SF are still niche in the south. That will take two cycles to break out of. If I were a Labour stratgist, I’d be a worried that my seats were next in the firing line.

    But even then, only if SF get out of the ghetto. And I mean really out of it, if they’re to register something more significant than a protest from the margins.

  • sonofstrongbow

    Mick makes a good point when he references Stormont “talent”. Putting to one side the use of UK-funded resources to support the Oireachtas (it was ever thus) it is of course in Sinn Fein’s interests to downplay what’s happening in the ‘North’.

    Whereas Sinn Fein TDs can make populist “noise” in Dublin a look at the performance of its Ministers and MLAs in Northern Ireland would quickly reveal that combative rhetoric does not transfer at all when you are actually responsible for doing something.

    Reality is such a cruel mistress.

  • John Ó Néill

    The lack of FF noise is due to the slightly obvious problem of causality – it’s difficult to criticise the structure of the states fiscal problems when you were one of the architects, or at best, a consultant engineer. Mahon will intensify that.

    The problem all parties face is whether to switch out of election mode. Citi’s chief economist thinks there will be a second ‘bailout’, there was an early emergency budget mooted yesterday (since December’s was predicated on wildly optimistic growth figures and a self-immolating VAT strategy), all the political low hanging fruit are gone and public sector job losses or social welfare cuts will be next up on FG’s list which, like with disability, will cause war in Labour (FF can dream the reversal was anything to do with them) who have a couple more TDs cowering at the limit of the whips reach as it is. And with a potential EU referendum to come, plus the gravitational ripples the EU’s problems continue to throw out -there’s every chance of another general election sooner rather than later. Which makes long term political development difficult for parties.

  • Mick Fealty

    And causality, surely. An early election would shake things up somewhat. But I will wait for that event to at least begin to shape up before taking a view on how it might affect matters.

    FF also understand that they are still blamed by the populous at large. There is little for them if they don’t first mend their base.

    A catastrophic event may well be good for SF’s fortunes but they will need to resolve the noise into clear and consistent and believable messages.

    That’s hard to do if you are still quartered exclusively in the ghetto. I don’t believe that’s where that crop of new talent is. But it’s leaderships role that will make the difference between success and failure in the end.

  • FuturePhysicist

    Sounds like change for change’s sake rather than believing in any real change. A new election would have lower turnout and frankly Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin “loyalists” would make proportionate gains due to the apathy of this government loan voters.

  • Mick Fealty


    Quite so. Actually, I meant to say narrative rather than messages to John. What problem is that SF is here to fix?

  • murdoleary

    I think what SF are looking for, John, is for the average five eight to take an interest in politics and not be futile about it. Sort of shoulder some of the responsibility. Maybe the dividend of the peace is that people can feel more that they can get involved in Irish politics without risking life and limb.

  • unicorn

    Seinn Fein are effective in lots of things but very ineffective in what is on paper and in present circumstances supposed to be the raison d’etre of their existence, i.e. persuading those who did not want it to vote for a united Ireland.

    Whatever you think of NILT they have presided over a situation where for the first time in history a reputable survey has shown >50% of Northern Ireland Catholics supporting the union. The amount of net Protestants they have persuaded to support a united Ireland is by all evidence zero.

    It’s one thing to criticise NILT’s absolute numbers, another thing to criticise it’s trends.

  • John Ó Néill

    I think you are putting the cart before the horse there unicorn – the very definite problem with NILT is that it cannot match it’s political results to anything that closely resembles the actual political opinions given in elections. Until it can actually replicate real political opinion (i.e. as evidenced by electoral results) then it raises questions about any of its conclusions. Anyone wanting to clutch at straws by claiming NILT is mirror of reality is indulging in escapism, at best.

  • Henry94


    As Scotland shows it is possible for a party to increase its representation and influence well beyond the opinion poll support for the constitutional position it espouses.

    Sinn Fein have to keep growing but are unlikely to be influenced by suggestions that they “get out of the ghetto”

    As permanent austerity drives more and more people into the ghetto it is exactly the place to be. The old model of a radical party eventually becoming part of the establishment is not necessarily going to work in the tough years ahead and Sinn Fein will not want to be out-flanked on the left by the Trotskyite branch parties who form the ULA.

    Sinn Fein will not be in the next government so they have a decade at least of building ahead of them. In fact SF should not enter any government in the south until they are in a position to lead it.

  • Mick Fealty


    You have been consistent on this scenario for much of the last eight years, whenever it arises in conversation.

    If we presume, for safety’s sake, that Irish constitutional history is coming to a juddering pause (if not halt) then what opportunities does that afford Sinn Fein?

    Remaining the ghetto makes some tactical sense. But it’s not the whole answer to finding the route to senior power (as you have consistently said here on Slugger, junior power kills).

    In short the ghetto may be the effective entry point, but it’s not, even by your own lights, the destination.