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Sam Boal
Sinn Féin Ard Fheis

Les Miserables overtones as SF pivots and primes itself for government

Mary Lou McDonald says she wants to be Taoiseach.

FIANNA FÁIL AND Fine Gael are out of touch, out of ideas and out of time – and Sinn Féin is a government-in-waiting. 

That was very much the impression Sinn Fein members had at today’s Ard Fheis in Dublin today. 

This year’s conference was a little different to previous years.

The number of attendees were down on previous party conferences due to Covid and there was no Republican merchandise for sale due to health and safety.

Gerry Adams wasn’t in the foyer autographing his books – as is a regular feature at the Ard Fheis – but there was one unlikely attendee seen doing the rounds, former Transport Minister Shane Ross.

No, he’s not signed up to the party, he was there for research purposes as he’s writing a book on the woman who wants to be the next Taoiseach – Mary Lou McDonald.

There was an air of confidence among the 700-strong members at the event, and who could blame them.

The recent polls would bolster anyone’s view of themselves. 

A recent Irish Times/IPSOS MRBI poll put Sinn Féin support at 32% and Fine Gael at 22%. In that poll, Fianna Fáil stood at 20%, with the Greens and Labour up a point each, to 7% and 4%, respectively.

Following that, the latest Business Post/Red C poll put McDonald’s party on 33% — the highest level it has ever reached in a Red C poll.

The theme of the Ard Fhéis today was a ‘Time for Change’ – with some delegates today predicting that the party could take 60 seats in the next election.

In order to get the number, the party will have to field more candidates than it did last time. 

In a Mea Culpa moment in her speech, McDonald gave a nod to her misstep in the last election of not running enough candidates. 

“So, to those who told me – again and again – to make sure we run enough
candidates at the next Dáil election. I hear you loud and clear,” she said. 

McDonald spelled it out very clearly in her closing speech.

She wants to be Taoiseach and she plans to be Taoiseach – if the electorate put their trust in her party, that is.

“Sinn Féin will deliver that government for the people. We want to lead that government.

“I want to lead as Taoiseach if you give us that chance,” she said.

If her words weren’t clear enough that they plan to be in government the next time around then Sinn Féin dropping its long-standing policy on its opposition to the Special Criminal Court is certainly a clear indication that the party means business. 

The motion recommending the change was passed at the party’s Ard Fheis by an estimated two votes to one, but the departure in such a policy is a signal that Sinn Féin is pivoting itself into position.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáíl used Sinn Féin’s position on the matter as a stick to beat McDonald with during election debates in 2020. 

Moving away from their position, McDonald is signifying a real play for government.

She has always said she is willing to sit down and talk government formation with any party, though it is often the smaller parties that are the kingmakers in Irish politics, something the party is most likely acutely aware of.

The song closing out the Ard Fheis was Les Miserables: Do you hear the people sing?

‘Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men?

‘It is the music of the people. Who will not be slaves again!

‘When the beating of your heart. Echoes the beating of the drums

‘There is a life about to start. When tomorrow comes! Will you join in our crusade?’

A rallying call to the voters? Or a warning to the two main political parties?

One thing for sure is Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will be scratching their heads about what it will take to derail the Sinn Féin train, if anything.

Housing, health and the cost of living are the battlegrounds. The government parties will have to make serious dents in all three if the poll numbers are to return in their favour. 

For now, Sinn Féin is happy to pick holes in government policy. The quickest and best way to take the shine off Sinn Féin is to pull something dramatic out of the box.

Whether the parties do this in time to save their bacon is down to them.

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