Sinn Féin's electoral chances and Arlene's ill-chosen remarks

Sinn Féin's electoral chances and Arlene's ill-chosen remarks

In his regular column, Kevin Meagher considers Sinn Féin's electoral outlook and has some advice for Arlene Foster

I’m not a betting man – a fool and his money are soon parted and all that – but if I was, it seems worth a punt that Sinn Féin will enter government at the next Irish general election.

A recent poll for the Sunday Times had them on 37 per cent of the vote, a record for the party.

In contrast, Fine Gael crashed from 23 per cent in February to just 15 per cent - their worst performance ever – while Fianna Fáil were on 21 per cent.

So, if you add their combined figures of FF-FG, they are still a point behind Sinn Féin.

Satisfaction with their government is also plummeting, down from 41 per cent in February to 34 per cent now, the lowest level since the government was formed in 2020.

What makes Sinn Féin’s rise feel like a safe bet is that this has been pretty much the picture since the last general election in February 2020.

Then, you will recall, Sinn Féin topped the poll in terms of votes, winning 24.6 per cent, but due to standing insufficient candidates, they were pipped in the number of seats by Fianna Fáil, 38-37.

Hence the clammy embrace between FF and FG, propped up by the Greens.

Assuming this coalition lasts the course until January 2025, they have little over 18 months to turn things around.

So far, there are few signs of that happening.

There has been no electoral honeymoon for Leo Varadkar, taking over as Taoiseach from Micheál Martin last December.

Meanwhile, a growing number Fianna Fáil backbenchers seem to want to replace Martin, which might rupture the coalition and precipitate an earlier election.

Now, you would be a fool to believe that the polls can’t change – they often do, and sure-fire predictions a year or more out from an election can quickly turn to ash.

But not always.

The former British prime minister, James Callaghan, predicting his Labour government would lose the 1979 general election, noted that a ‘sea change’ had taken place in public opinion.

Once, every 30 years or so he believed, “there is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of”.

Something similar is happening in Irish politics.

All the brickbats hurled at Sinn Féin by the Irish media appear to have little effect. Mary-Lou McDonald leads a new generation of republicans that are distanced from the Troubles.

A poll from 2019 showed that their electoral support now runs deep. Voters from all parts of Ireland, all age groups and all income brackets were backing them.

There’s a yearning for change in Irish society – a feeling that the new-found wealth of the country is not evenly shared – and that the old parties, in hock to big money, just don’t appear to hear it.

Still, there are those in Fianna Fáil who would much prefer to work with Sinn Féin than Fine Gael.

The problem is that Sinn Féin might not need them.

There is an emerging possibility that the Shinners could patch together an administration with the smaller left-wing parties and, for the first time in the history of the state, keep both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael out of government.

Again, the Sunday Times poll showed that if you tot-up the combined vote shares for the Greens, Labour, the Social Democrats, People Before Profit and Aontu, you get 18 per cent.

Add that to Sinn Féin’s 37 per cent and you get 55 per cent.

As I say, one poll does not guarantee a result, and adding-up a theoretical majority is, well theoretical.

But interesting times, nevertheless.


Really Arlene, a period of silence from you would be welcome

‘A period of silence on your part would be most welcome,’ the post-war Labour Prime Minister once suggested to an interfering colleague.

An elegant put-down and a similar entreaty to ‘close her pie-hole’ should now be made to Arlene Foster.

Sorry, ‘Lady’ Arlene as she now is, elevated to the House of Lords after her own colleagues deposed her as leader of the Democratic Unionists and First Minister of Northern Ireland back in 2021.

She now plies her wares as a talking head on GB News (full disclosure: I also pop up there from time to time) making less-than-diplomatic interventions on the issues of the day (her, not me), which are then reported in the Irish media.

She was at it during President Biden’s recent trip to Ireland.

‘He hates the United Kingdom, there is no doubt about that,’ Foster told the broadcaster. He was ‘pro-republican and pro-nationalist,’ she added.

Not content with that embarrassing salvo, she dutifully followed-up with the frankly bizarre observation that the armour-plated presidential limousine – ‘The Beast’ -didn’t display the British flag while Biden was in Belfast, although the Irish tricolour was present for the southern leg of his trip.

(Possibly something to do with the fact his trip to Belfast was not a state visit while his trip to the Republic was?)

Either way, the US President is entitled to fly whatever flags he chooses and it ill-behoves Foster to stick her oar into proceedings.

Invariably, her effusions have a bitter tenor.

The plain truth is that Arlene Foster is yesterday’s woman.

Massively over-promoted, she had neither the political sophistication, nor administrative abilities for top-level politics.

Her five years leading the DUP saw her sit as First Minister for just two of them.

For the remaining three years, the assembly and executive were mothballed, following Martin McGuinness’s resignation as deputy First Minister in sheer frustration at her arrogance and unwillingness to enter into the spirit of power-sharing.

During the 2017 assembly election, she infamously summed-up her view of nationalists, rejecting calls for an Irish Language Act by remarking that, ‘if you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back and looking for more.’

It helped rally Sinn Fein’s vote, with the party finishing just a single seat behind the DUP.

Like many unionists, Arlene doesn’t understand that for Northern Ireland to continue to exist, it needs the acquiescence of a large number of passive nationalists.

Unfortunately, her sour and peevish remarks, intemperate language and ill-considered observations, simply galvanises nationalists to want to cut their losses and vote for Irish unity.

On second thoughts, long may she continue.