Slugger had some the thickest coverage the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis, courtesy of Alan and live tweeting from David. But for a rich under the skin analysis of where Sinn Fein finds itself after more than fifty days of the 32nd Dail’s inability to decide a government you have to go far to find better Eoin O’Malley’s:
In an election following years of austerity, with the water charges issue and even 1916, it seemed set up for a Sinn Fein breakthrough. But the party got less than 14pc of the vote – well down on its result in the European elections two years ago. It performed much worse than its sister parties in Greece and Spain, Syriza and Podemos.
It would have hoped that it could overtake Fianna Fail, which had hardly shone in Opposition, and relied on the ineptitude of Fine Gael for its recovery. The resurgent Fianna Fail remaining in Opposition makes it harder for Sinn Fein to carve out space for itself. Sinn Fein’s non-involvement in government negotiations is designed for the party’s long-term goal of becoming one of the top two parties in the State. But it is being accused of ‘sitting on its hands’.
Those accusations are a bit unfair because Sinn Fein is persona non grata. None of the parties would do a deal with it. Even the alphabet-soup Left can’t agree a transfer pact with it.
This might suit Sinn Fein for now. This is an anti-establishment ‘moment’.
The red meat is in O’Malley’s data on the social attitudes of those currently supporting Sinn Fein in the south. What’s particularly striking is how those attitudes clash with the policy positions of the party:
It is to Sinn Fein’s credit that it is not an anti-immigrant party – unless you happen to be the descendent of an immigrant who came to Ireland 400 years ago.
But like those voting for Trump or Farage, its voters are more chauvinistic than other parties. The European Social Survey, released last year, shows that Sinn Fein voters are less welcoming of immigrants: 21pc of its voters would allow no immigration, compared to 10pc of Fine Gael voters. On the other end of the scale, just 8pc would welcome ‘many immigrants’, compared to 18pc of Fine Gael voters.
On other issues, we see similar patterns. A quarter of Sinn Fein voters disagree with the statement that ‘Gays should be free to live as they like.’ This compares with less than 10pc of Fine Gael supporters. On other social issues, such as the role of women, we see that Sinn Fein voters are as conservative as those of Fianna Fail, which is more surprising, given the younger age profile of the Sinn Fein voter.
Where Sinn Fein’s supporters differ from Fianna Fail’s is that they are much less happy, and much less trusting.
That they don’t trust the institutions of the State, such as gardai and the courts, might not be surprising, but they also don’t trust their fellow citizens. Forty per cent of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail voters agree that ‘most people can be trusted’, but just 20pc of Sinn Fein’s voters do.
The Sinn Fein message suits these people, but it could become a problem if Sinn Fein ever wants to govern.
While Sinn Fein’s politics will delight a minority, it repulses many, even those who should be its friends. The radical Left doesn’t regard it as genuinely left-wing; it sees it as a populist party using the class struggle for its nationalist ends. The centre Left regards it as too left-wing and find its brand of aggressive nationalism abhorrent.
This hits the party where it matters. Its ‘transfer toxicity’ might be overplayed, but Sinn Fein still gets fewer transfers than a party of its size should.
This cost it three seats in the February election. Just as many US voters will vote for anyone but Trump, most Irish ones will support anyone other than Sinn Fein.
Gerry Adams, like a Trump or Farage, gets headlines. Teenagers love selfies with him. But it stops the party from being taken seriously as a potential party of government. An interviewer had only to throw a few numbers at Adams and watch as he was left reeling in confusion.
It’s hard to see him going unless he wants to go. Politicians have big egos and don’t naturally realise they are a liability on their own. Sinn Fein is stuck with him.
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