First thoughts on Sinn Féin’s disastrous election

David Moane is retired, lives in Dublin and takes an active interest in Southern politics. Here he shares his thoughts on the lessons that need to be learned by Sinn Féin after their disappointing performance in the recent elections.

The European and local elections in the RoI were a disaster for Sinn Féin and a vindication of the Government. This momentous outcome will have ramifications for both parts of the island.

First, Sinn Féin. In the June 2019 European and local elections it secured 9.5% of the vote. In the general election in February 2020 it made its unexpected and dramatic breakthrough, securing 24.5% of the vote (FF, 22.2%; FG, 20.9%) becoming the Official Opposition in the Dáil.
From there its popularity rose, peaking in the Irish Times tracking opinion polling at 36% two summers ago. Then a decline set in, culminating in a 23% showing in the latest Irish Times polling a few weeks ago.
The party was on the backfoot going into these elections, unusual for the Official Opposition and with the Government in the fourth year of its term, the FG component having been in power continually since 2011, some 13 years. But to record a derisory 12% vote when it should have swept the board is a disaster for the party and requires an explanation.
Part of that explanation lies with the performance of the three Government parties who saw their combined share of the vote touch 50%, almost identical with their general election showing in 2020. An extraordinary outcome for any Government across Europe. This for a Government that presided over immigration on an unprecedented scale.
Of the country’s population of 5.27 million, some 1.15 million comprise foreign-born migrants, 90% of whom are economic and 10% refugees. This represents 22% of the overall population, by comparison with an average of 15% across Western Europe (17% in the UK).
So, immigration was not the defining issue – how otherwise could the Government’s vote have held up so well? The Centre-ground made a clear statement of support for the Government parties and its policies. And those disparate groupings seeking to exploit an exclusive anti-immigrant platform hardly registered.
The collapse in the SF vote has a number of tributaries. First, it tried to occupy the Centre-ground already over-occupied by a Government doing a creditable job. Second, it vacillated on one policy after another, including immigration, until its credibility was sunk. Third, Mary Lou McDonald increasingly showed her limitations, becoming more of a liability than an asset.
But none of these are sufficient in themselves to explian why the Official Opposition party saw its vote collapse. The underlying reason is that voters in the RoI have rejected Sinn Féin as a Northern party interloping itself on Southern politics, controlled by a hidden cabal from Belfast and bringing with it the abrasive and divisive baggage of Northern identify politics.
The electorate dabbled with the party in 2020 and then became disaffected. In this election it put it back in the box it had placed it prior to 2020.
The lessons for SF are stark. It should write off the South and save itself by focusing on its bailiwick in Northern Ireland. It needs to show it can govern NI with others, as per the Belfast Agreement, competently and over a sustained period. When it has done that it can consider a return to Southern politics. Failure to act in this way will see Northern voters reject it as emphatically as have Southern voters this week.

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