QUITE a lot of political commentators are predicting that this decade of Irish centenaries might conclude with a Sinn Féin Taoiseach.
This would mean that the centenary of the true foundation of this State might be celebrated by an Irish Republican Taoiseach untrammelled by the hundred years of power we’ve already experienced.
It is hard to imagine that the current grand coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will not try to prevent that but it remains a distinct possibility.
Of course, everything for Sinn Féin would change then.
It is one thing to be the populist nationalists of opposition but a different story being that in government.
Time will tell. Sinn Féin in government will, though, leave a gap.
And that gap is no trivial thing.
Across the world, prior to, and during the pandemic, we have seen the rise and success of the far right.
Countries as diverse as Poland, Brazil, and Hungary are all governed by far right regimes. Our neighbours, the UK, entered Brexit on a tide of flag-waving populism tinged with prejudice and racism.
The USA embraced a far right demagogue who refused to accept the workings of democracy and led a mob against the peaceful transition of power.
The far right will contest the Presidential elections in France.
They are electoral contenders in Spain and Italy.
Yet, here in Ireland the far right are electoral non-entities.
In the last election, despite contesting a large number of seats, every single far right candidate lost their deposit.
We could, if we so desired, just slap ourselves on the back about that.
We could simply congratulate ourselves. Which is not necessarily completely wrong.
Irish society is coherent and functional and intimate. All things that do keep the voices of hate in the shadows, in the miserable margins where they belong.
Irish society is not faultless, far, far from it, but it is a generally warm place, a generally welcoming place.
All of that, though, forgets about Sinn Féin.
If Fianna Fáil have existed for so long because they tried to please everyone all the time and revelled in their broad church, i.e. no ideology, character, Sinn Féin have outflanked them.
Sinn Féin have the tricolours and the nationalism and the whiff of rebellion.
They have the anti-establishment position and the American money.
True too is that through Sinn Féin Irish nationalism has managed to maintain the anti-imperialist character it originated from.
The regressive flag wavers themselves have been outflanked too, by a political party that has its roots in literally fighting and dying for the flag.
Both the establishment and the anti-establishment have been outflanked by Sinn Féin.
And then Sinn Féin will take power. And then what? What happens then?
Well, I’m not so sure Sinn Féin can pull off being anti-establishment and the government at the same time.
I know it worked for Trump in America but I’m not convinced Ireland has the same levels of idiocy. Not on such a scale anyway. That would leave a gap where, in the rest of Europe for instance, the nationalist right have marched through.
In some ways I wonder if our far right want Sinn Féin in government.
Then the dark forces shouting from the sidelines can grab that tricolour and pretend they are the true face of the nation.
But as long as Sinn Féin is able to hoover up and shape the reactionary nationalist vote those parties cannot get a foothold.
The Shinners have the flag and whatever else about them it could be in far worse hands.