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Can Sinn Féin lead the next government?

Analysis: Controversies aren’t harming Sinn Féin in the polls and its message is resonating with more and more voters across the country.

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE POLITICAL CRISIS in the North will be on the minds of everyone gathered in Meath for Sinn Féin’s parliamentary think-in today.

But beyond what happens in Stormont over the next few weeks, the party has its eyes firmly on bigger things, like being in government in the south after the next election.

To do so, Gerry Adams and other senior party figures have made it clear that Sinn Féin would have to be the largest party in any coalition arrangement. It’s as red line an issue as the pledge to abolish water charges and property tax.

That prompts the question as to whether this can actually be achieved. Paddy Power gives odds of 50/1 on a Sinn Féin-led government after the next election and 66/1 on the party achieving an overall majority.

There are a few reasons why winning more seats than any other party is not beyond the realms of possibility for Sinn Féin.

The party’s appeal among voters is growing. That much was in evidence in last year’s local elections when it significantly increased its number of councillors and returned three MEPs for the Republic with Lynn Boylan notably topping the poll in Dublin.

In by-elections, the party has failed to win a seat but has performed strongly in Dublin West and Dublin South-West. What let them down on both occasions was their supposed toxicity when it comes to transfers, but even this may not be the case anymore.

In the most recent by-election in Carlow Kilkenny, the Sinn Féin candidate Kathleen Funchion was more transfer-friendly than either her Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil opponent.

28/7/2015. Irish Water Fails Eurostat Tests Pearse Doherty would likely be finance minister in any Sinn Féin-led government

It wasn’t enough to get her elected, but it was enough to provide the party with hope that it could conceivably take a seat in every Dáil constituency at the next election and two in strongholds like Donegal, Cavan-Monaghan and some constituencies in north Dublin.

Sinn Féin strategists have been operating on the basis that an election could take place this year. That’s why the party is more advanced than any other when it comes to picking candidates with nearly all tickets in the 40 Dáil constituencies finalised.

On Monday night, its two candidates in Dublin Bay North, Micheál MacDonncha and Denise Mitchell, lashed the government over cuts to public services during a heated edition of Vincent Browne People’s Debate.

The pair were the most impressive of the candidates on show and demonstrated why Sinn Féin’s message is increasingly popular among voters who aren’t feeling the recovery the government keeps banging on about.

29/7/2015 Dail Scenes Source: Sam Boal

Over the past year, Sinn Féin has mobilised thousands of supporters across the country as part of its opposition to water charges. It has presented an alternative vision to the one being pushed by the current coalition where there are no water charges and no property tax if it is elected to government.

How will they pay for all of this, asks the government? Through higher taxes on higher earners. To those at the very bottom of the pay scale, it’s an attractive proposition.

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In terms of personalities, the likes of Mary Lou McDonald continue to impress in both Dáil and media performances. Her status as heir apparent to Gerry Adams has only been enhanced among the party faithful over the course of this Dáil.

As for Adams himself, while many see his past as a barrier to political advancement it’s worth remembering he topped the poll in Louth in 2011. All going well for the party he will take his constituency running mate with him into the 32nd Dáil.

canvass-card-front One of hundreds of thousands of Sinn Féin leaflets being delivered across the country in recent weeks. Source: Irish Election Literature

The controversies over abuse in the Republican movement or internal party battles in Cork East aren’t damaging Sinn Féin in the polls, which consistently put the party in the high teens or low 20s.

When an election comes, the party hopes that voters will focus on its alternative to austerity, reject this government and vote Sinn Féin. The party is currently delivering one million leaflets across the country, telling voters it’s preparing for government with plans to increase the income of low paid workers and cut the salaries of TDs and ministers.

Many polls suggest Sinn Féin can at least double its number of Dáil seats at the next election. But the party has its eyes on something much bigger than that, leading a government that aids those at the very bottom of society and delivers what it calls ‘a fairer recovery’ .

The politics of the North might dominate the agenda in Gormanstown today, but Sinn Féin has eyes on political domination in the south. Other parties should not underestimate its ability to achieve just that come election time.

Read: An election-ready Sinn Féin wants to raise wages by €1 and cut politicians’ pay

Read: Can Fine Gael dare to dream of an overall majority?

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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