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Saturday 9 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C

From 'pariah party' to potential Government partner: International media react to Sinn Féin surge

British broadcaster John Simpson has weighed in on the election result, saying Ireland had “succumbed to populism”.

SINN FÉIN’S SURGE in the General Election has been described as a “revolution” and “a historic breakthrough for nationalists” by international media over the past 24 hours. 

As counting recommences around Ireland, the party has won the highest percentage of first preference votes and has secured 29 seats to date.

Few saw it coming. But Sinn Féin is the first party in almost a century other than Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to win the popular vote in an Irish General Election.

As Irish media busily reports each count taking place around the country, let’s take a look at how international outlets covered this historic election. 

‘A Giant Leap’ 

Across the water, Sky News said Sinn Féin “leads the race to form a government” while The Guardian writes that Irish voters, “tired of a two-party system” had made Sinn Féin mainstream. 

“The left-wing party and former political wing of the IRA took 24.5% of all votes but only fielded 42 candidates – far short of the magic number of 80 that any government needs to have a majority in the Dáil Parliament,” Sky News reports.

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The Guardian, meanwhile, says Sinn Féin – “once a revolutionary party associated with guns and balaclavas, a toxic brand” -  has “slowly edged from the fringe into the mainstream, inch by inch, and then on Saturday made a giant leap”. 

“The great paradox is that unification with Northern Ireland, the cause that birthed Sinn Féin in its modern form and still defines it, barely featured in the campaign,” writes The Guardian’s Ireland correspondent Rory Carroll. 

“Britain, Brexit, Boris Johnson were not even blips on the radar. For many in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and other towns, the troubles are about paying rent, not murky historical events north of the border.”

“It would be easy to depict this as the inevitable destination of a long march led by a savvy, mercurial guide, Gerry Adams,” said Carroll. 

“In 1986, he recognised that the IRA would not be able to bomb its way to a united Ireland and persuaded the republican movement to abandon its policy of abstention and to compete for – and take – seats in the Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann.”

‘A progressive urban leader’ 

In The United States, The New York Times has reported on the General Election result.

Reporter Benjamin Mueller wrote that Sinn Féin, “a leftist party long ostracised from Irish politics over its ties to sectarian violence” had won the popular vote, “loosening a 90-year stranglehold” by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. 

“Analysts said the conditions that fueled Sinn Féin’s rise mirrored those that have driven support in Britain for Jeremy Corbyn, the hard-left Labour Party leader, and in the United States for the Democratic presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders,” writes Mueller. 

“Chief among those conditions are young people suffering from low pay and skyrocketing rents, and widespread anger at tax breaks and gentrification.”

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At The Washington Post, Amanda Ferguson reports on the in-and-outs of the election results which has “[thrown] Irish politics into uncertainty”.

“For the two center-right parties, Sinn Féin’s historical association with the IRA still weighs heavily,” writes Ferguson. 

“The IRA, loyalist paramilitaries and British troops killed about 3,600 people during the long conflict known as the Troubles, which centered on the IRA’s campaign from the 1960s until the late 1990s to force an end to British rule in Northern Ireland.

“In an effort to move the party on from its controversial roots, [Mary Lou] McDonald (50) framed herself as a progressive, urban leader,” Ferguson reports. 

“Her policies and her rise in politics after a childhood in a middle-class suburb of Dublin appeared to resonate with voters.”

‘Pariah Party’

Back to Europe, Le Monde newspaper in France runs with the headline “Ireland: A historic breakthrough for nationalists”. 

In Spain, daily national El Páis runs with a photo of a triumphant Mary Lou McDonald below this headline – “Sinn Féin goes from ‘pariah party’ to potential Irish Government partner”.

Elsewhere, veteran British broadcaster John Simpson has weighed in on the election result, saying that Ireland had “succumbed to populism”.

Said Simpson: “So Ireland, which has been politically stable for decades, has also succumbed to populism now.”

With outlets like BBC and France 24 at Dublin Count Centres yesterday, this election has no doubt gripped the attention of international media outlets. 

As counting continues this afternoon, keep an eye on our live coverage throughout the day. 

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