After just one term in local power SF’s answer has been “thanks, but no thanks”.

To begin with the big southern election story in the media was the rise of the Greens, helped in some ways by the exaggeration of their vote  RTE/B&A exit poll.

But the real story is the sheer scale of the fall of Sinn Féin and, to a much lesser extent, the far left.  Augmented this afternoon by the loss of two out of the party’s three MEPs in Dublin and South constituencies.

Five years ago all three candidates came at or fairly near the top of the poll. This time they had to depend on the sympathy of others.  The principle of “ourselves before all” can be a serious handicap in the lower reaches of a tightly contested PR STV race. Voters can literally go very far out of their way to avoid coming to you.

What is saving them from harsher criticism is the idea that they just lost 6% but that is 6% of the national share of the electorate. In reality the number Sinn Fein party representatives has been cut in half in the Republic as far as public representative.  That is brutal.

Some Northern Irish activists who had dedicated the last ten years to building up the project in the south are now packing their bags and either heading back north or out of politics altogether.  Be sure that these terrible losses will replicate themselves in the general election next year.

So how did it happen?

Well, the party’s always on, angry style of politics is no longer in fashion. The country is pulling out of recession and voters are looking for a more constructive positive and future focused form of politics.

Sinn Fein failed to read how a new landscape bounded by the external (and highly existential) dangers of Brexit meant that the mature politics underwriting the confidence and supply arrangement was more popular than shouting at almost everything that moved.

Unlike Northern Ireland where tribalism has underwritten the party’s electoral success for much of the last 15 to 20 years, they are surrounded by political rivals who are not afraid to attack them on every level and a political media which is unafraid to carry and amplify such attacks.

The stark reality is that only thing still sustaining that northern popularity is the very unpopularity of the DUP and its leader Arlene Foster amongst nationalists. A change in unionist leadership right now to someone more broadly accepting would likely finish them off. [Don’t hold you’re breath – Ed]

The fawning excuse and false claim that Sinn Fein voters were so annoyed with Seamus Mallon that they skipped over the SDLP and voted in numbers for Naomi Long is just that.  If that’s what many of the 34,000 decided to do, they did it because they prefer the look of Naomi to their own party’s candidate.  It also tells you something about the proprietorial assumption the party habitually makes about those who vote for them.

As Tim Brannigan remarked on Twitter all votes are loaned, and any smart public representative knows they must work both to earn and retain them.   The fact that so many in the north defected not to the SDLP but jumped directly to the cross community Alliance party shows just how far Sinn Fein has drifted from the lived reality of those who previously voted for them.

All that blue sky chatter about “border polls” (a concept as vacuous and devoid of substance as it is unpopular) has done is drive so many people out of constitutionally based politics and into the arms of someone who at least looks serious about making the “Agreed Ireland” that we already have actually work.

This matters. Not just to Sinn Fein, but to anyone who still takes the legitimate aspiration towards a United Ireland even moderately seriously. Such voters need grafters not just in constituency business but at the macro level where people at or near the bottom can see a way out of the misery and fatalism of the past, not be kept at the bottom of the stars and condemned to relive the worst of it forever.

After just one term in power in Dublin, South Dublin and Cork, the answer has been a resounding “thanks, but no thanks”. Time for a change.

Photo by Elliott Stallion is licensed under CC0

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