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Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Féin leader at the count centre in the RDS. Rolling News.

Analysis Sinn Féin in this election were like Fianna Fáil in 2020 - no new ideas or energy

Johnny Fallon looks at the state of play in Ireland after the local and EU elections and says the electorate gave all a fair hearing.


THIS WEEKEND I was taken back to sitting in Fr. Murray’s history class at St. Mel’s College in Longford.

I always recalled him suggesting that while Irish political parties certainly flirted with some dubious ideas and people and had periods of silliness, they had one advantage from the civil war. They tended to avoid huge extremism. While Europe ripped itself apart with extreme left and right, Ireland just plodded along, slowly charting a course toward progress.

This weekend, Europe seemed again in the clutches of lurching to the extremes. It has been that way since the financial crisis. But in Ireland, the electorate decided yet again that extremism was not for it. Irish voters have a simple view, hard left or hard right equates to hard times. A lot of the stories people want us to believe are major issues are not that big at all on the ground. We should be thankful for that.

An indecisive electorate

That said, the election is giving everybody food for thought. Independents seemed to be winners here. But the Irish electorate turns to independents, not for what they believe they will do, but because the electorate feels indecisive.

When you don’t know what party to trust it’s much easier to believe in one person.

However, the new hybrid Independent Ireland party is sure to cause raised eyebrows when it starts to tackle issues. An independent of vast experience, Luke Ming Flanagan pointed out that there will be a lot of inexperienced voices heading to Europe and he is not wrong.

90337273_90337273 Luke Ming Flanagan. Rolling News. Rolling News.

Many don’t even know what group they will sit in. Flanagan also pointed out his own evolution and how it became more than posting a video and making a loud speech  — instead, it’s about negotiating deals and working with people to advance the cause.

Some of the independent councillors and MEPs will no doubt learn quickly and do well. Some others will find that there is a lot more to politics than shouting off the back of a trailer.

Floating voters

What the election does tell us is that a large proportion of the electorate is still looking for a home. That means all parties can plan for a general election with this in mind. For Sinn Féin, this was a sobering election.

This was their first poll setback and during the campaign, they failed to arrest it. They looked a little like Fianna Fáil in the 2020 campaign. No new ideas, no real energy, no vigour… instead just waiting for votes to land with them. They got the same response as Fianna Fáil in 2020. If you are uninspiring, then we easily move on. Sinn Féin must now adapt.

Sunday Count 58_90706891 Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Féin leader at the count centre in the RDS. Rolling News. Rolling News.

Fine Gael will be very happy even though their vote is not massively improving. It’s all about the energy, though. Since Simon Harris arrived in the leader’s chair, he has been pushing the tempo button like a kid on a video game, trying to make the characters run faster and faster.

Elections 2024 11_90706918 Taoiseach and FG leader, Simon Harris surrounded by supporters at the RDS. Rolling News Rolling News

But Harris knows well this mood can be fleeting. He cannot afford to get bogged down. If he waits until next year for an election, then that may very well happen. If on the other hand, Sinn Féin does not recover in the polls, he can again show urgency by calling an election after the budget and seeking to burn off tired other parties.

Fianna Fáil holds its own but will be in danger of getting squeezed in a general election if they don’t find their mojo. The campaign on the ground shows they still have a base, but it is personality-driven. The locals in Dublin were a struggle, but Europe was better. They need and have always thrived on personalities and must figure out how to get that back.

890European Elections_90707002 Tanaiste and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and candidate Barry Andrews speaking to the media during results for the Local and European elections in the RDS. Rolling News Rolling News

The Greens were not wiped out and they are proving that there is a base of people in Ireland sufficiently concerned about the climate crisis to stand by difficult policy decisions. The Labour Party will feel energised too. They bounced back and got their council seats well ahead of the Social Democrats, who ran a smooth campaign and almost doubled their seats, but lacked grit in the fight.

Labour’s Aodhán O’Ríordáin carries the fight now for a seat in Dublin for Europe but whatever happens has established Labour as a bulwark and leading voice against sensationalism, and an anti-liberal agenda that was all more narrative than substance.

So where do we stand? ‘Don’t get carried away’ is the message. The electorate is poised to give a fair hearing and judgment on all sides. They want and need a bit of passion and care from their politicians, and most of all some creative policies and daring.

It really is all to play for now and any party can still win big. That in turn reminded me of my youth again, too. When you get rejected at the first slow set, it’s fine, you can dust yourself off and have another chance to woo at the next one. The panic only sets in on the last dance.

Johnny Fallon is a political commentator, author and voice of ‘The Johnny Fallon Podcast’. He is a former member of the Fianna Fáil National Executive.

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