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Sam Boal
Analysis

Mixed views in SF about doing business with FF, but confidence in the air they can go it alone

As the party ventures into specifics and pledges, Sinn Féin knows nothing can be taken for granted.

THERE ARE MIXED views in Sinn Féin about whether it will be palatable for the party to go into government with Fianna Fáil, if that option is on the table after the next general election. 

Attendees The Journal spoke to at yesterday’s Sinn Féin Ard Fheis at the Technological University of Shannon Campus in Athlone outlined the differing views about whether its members would sign-off on going into a possible future coalition with Fianna Fáil. 

While some said it would involve significant compromises being made on party policy, others seemed more open to the idea if it meant that Sinn Féin would finally take a seat in government. 

There was a confident energy at the party’s Ard Fheis in Athlone this weekend, though some noted yesterday’s affair was more muted than previous years, with some stating there were smaller numbers in attendance. 

Among members, while there was a general view that Sinn Féin could make big strides in the next election, there was also a feeling that nothing can be taken for granted.

A lot can change in an election campaign, after all.

Speaking to The Journal, James Stokes, 18-year-old Sinn Féin local election candidate for Newbridge said:

It does feel like we’re going to win next time. It looks like there’s going to be change and it looks like we’re not going to need Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

This was a point also made by the party’s finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty who told members in his speech that the focus has to be about electing enough Sinn Féin TDs to form a government without Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil after the next general election.

But if the numbers don’t go their way, would Sinn Féin be willing to do business with Fianna Fáil?

If it comes down to that, it will come down to the members, said Stokes. 

Mary Lou McDonald failed to rule out going into coalition with Fianna Fáil this week, while there has been commentary that Micheál Martin’s stance has softened somewhat. 

At the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis last week, Martin said it is not by any means a certainty that Sinn Féin will walk the election, stating that it is “wide open”.

Some within the Fianna Fáil have said Martin’s sense of duty to public service may lead to him accept the most difficult prospect of going into government with Sinn Féin after the next election, if it meant he could keep Sinn Féin “in check”, as one Fianna Fáil politician put it.

Stokes told The Journal yesterday that for the last 100 years Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been in power.

“There needs to be a chance of change, a change in leadership. I think Sinn Féin will be that change,” he said, adding that Sinn Féin is “100%” a home for the young voter. 

Sinn Féin saw its poll numbers drop in recent days, with last weekend’s Sunday Independent/Ireland Thinks opinion poll putting the party four points to 31%. 

Fine Gael was up two to 21% and Fianna Fáil was up one to 18%. Support for the Green Party remained unchanged at 4%. 

While the polling numbers fell, Sinn Féin is still in a comfortable position. 

There has been a lot of commentary that the party is attracting young voters who, in a housing crisis, feel disenfranchised by the establishment parties. 

McDonald, tapping in on that audience, said in her speech that housing was Sinn Féin’s number one priority, pledging to roll out the biggest housing programme in the history of the State if successful after the next election. 

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil know their weak point in the narrative is housing, and in recent months has been at pains to highlight to the younger first-time buyer generation that if in government, Sinn Féin plans to scrap the Help-to-Buy scheme and the First Home scheme. 

Another young Sinn Féin party member, Thabiso from Newbridge, said he was impressed with the speakers at yesterday’s Ard Fheis. 

“They are all so confident, it really is inspiring. Especially with the support for Palestine – everybody’s standing up. It shows that among the base, like there is real support for the policies that the party is pushing as well,” he said. 

After the next election, Sinn Féin “will have the power”, he said. 

“It will be the biggest bloc, we’d have most of the voters on our side,” he added.

There is some expectation that after the next general election a rainbow coalition could be formed, with some predicting a left-leaning government with Sinn Féin at the helm.

Others predict it won’t be clear cut, and it could result in a SF-FF government, with independents and other smaller parties tacked on.

There’s even some speculation as to whether we could be facing into another rotating Taoiseach mechanism between McDonald and Martin.

In the end, it’s all speculation, and it’s only after the election will the whole picture become clear.

At yesterday’s event, most Sinn Féin voters The Journal spoke to felt that they were on the cusp of historic change in Irish politics. 

The party speakers hammered home this message: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had been in power for too long, that it was time for change, and Sinn Féin is ready to lead. 

In her closing speech, McDonald said: 

“A new government without Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for the first time in a hundred years. Just imagine that. That would be the very best outcome from the General Election.”

“Of course, the people will make that call. It’s your decision. We take nothing for granted.  There are no inevitabilities,” she added. 

Doherty acknowledged in his speech that they understand the “great responsibility” that could be placed upon them.

“We know the challenges before us,” he said. 

Listing off all the problems facing society, from the high cost of living, to issues in the health service, to the housing and homelessness crisis, Doherty said his party is “determined to deliver”. 

“We have the ideas, the energy and the will to move our country forward and give hope to our people,” he told the crowd yesterday.

A number of promises were also made, such as building the economy, improving living standards, rebuilding the health service, and building more homes. 

McDonald promised a three-year rent freeze, while Housing Minister Eoin Ó Broin pledged to end homelessness for those over the age of 55 in a single year.

That one will be jotted down by their opponents and filed away for a time when Sinn Féin might be in power.

Venturing into specifics and timelines with their pledges is what will be required as we get closer to election time. Vague visions for the future won’t cut it with the electorate. 

With the countdown to the next election on, it’s the specifics and the granular policy detail that voters will demand from Sinn Féin, and the answers better stack up if the party wants to take the next step.

The younger generation that the party is targeting have big demands, big expectations and they’re not to be trifled with.

The party is fast realising that even if given the opportunity, the real pressure will begin when people expect delivery on those promises. That will be the real test for Sinn Féin.

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