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Why Did Sinn Féin Surge to be The Most Popular Party in Ireland in General Election 2020?

February 13, 2020 1 comment

Analysis: Irish General Election 2020

Why Did Sinn Féin Surge to be The Most Popular Party in the 26-Counties ?

Results :Seats FF 38 ,SF 37, FG 35. Green 12, Labour 6, Social Democrats 6, Solidarity-People before Profit 5, Others 21

Share of Popular Vote %

 Sinn Féin  24.5  Fianna Fáil 22.2  Fine Gael 20.9   Green 7.1    Labour 4.4    Social Democrats 2.9  Solidarity/People Before Profit  2.6  Aontú 1.9  Independents/others 13.5 

Lowest Ever Total  for  Two Main Conservative Parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael

FF+FG=  43.1%

(Sinn Féin is the Largest nationalist party in the 6-counties which are under British rule)

Just nine months earlier Sinn Féin lost half its seats on local Authorities and two its 3 seats in the European Parliament in the 26 counties.!  https://wp.me/pKzXa-1xg

In the previous general election (2016), Sinn Féin got 13.8% of the popular vote. In general election 2020 this grew to 24.5%. For the first time in history, the Sinn Féin vote exceeded that of each of the two main capitalist parties.

While Sinn Féin candidates explained their policies to the public clearly and competently during the election, no change in the policy or orientation of Sinn Féin since 2016 was significant enough to explain the large increase in its vote share.

Parliamentary elections in Ireland are carried out through proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote.

Sinn Féin had the largest proportion of the popular vote but did not stand second candidates in most constituencies several of whom would also have been elected. Clearly Sinn Féin did not expect the extent to which its vote share actually increased!

Sinn Féin recommended to supporters to transfer left. Most Sinn Féin voters would probably have transferred to the left in any event.  Except Richard Boyd-Barret , all Solidarity-People before Profit candidates and several Green candidates, Social Democrat and left independents were elected through the distribution of Sinn Féin surplus votes in addition to their own first preference votes! Seamus Healy TD (Workers and Unemployed Action) lost his seat in Co. Tipperary. Despite his ceaseless work and campaigning on health, housing, equality etc he was outpolled by Sinn Féin. His transfers elected Martin Browne, Sinn Féin, who was short of the quota (and unfortunately had no surplus to distribute!) Because trade union leaders failed to act on Seamus’ persistent calls for national action on housing and health, huge layers of the population felt they needed a big party like Sinn Féin to force urgent change through parliament. The compliance of trade union leaders with austerity governments created a political vacancy for Sinn Féin. The Labour Party, to which the largest trade union and some other unions are affiliated, was reduced to 6 seats from seven and a paltry vote share of 4.4%.

Labour had already lost  30 seats in the Irish General election of 2016 because, in government with Fine Gael since 2011,  it had participated in vicious attacks on peoples living standards.

Likewise the failure of Trade Union Leaders to stand up to the very right wing First Free State Government in the twenties created a vacancy for Fianna Fáil founder, Devalera, to sweep to power in 1932.

  The non-availability of Labour, as a vehicle of protest meant that huge layers of the population believed that the only vehicle available to express their dissatisfaction was Sinn Féin. Unlike imperialist European countries, Ireland with its history as a colony,  has a traditional left leaning  nationalist party. Working class nationalist communities in the 6-counties have adopted SF as their representatives for decades. In this election, whole working class communities in the 26-counties adopted Sinn Féin as a vehicle to punish the two main capitalist parties for their oppressive austerity policies. Many on middle incomes also voted for Sinn Féin.

The blatant inequality in the distribution of the fruits of capitalist recovery provoked a major popular backlash against the government and the main “opposition” party which was keeping it in power. Historically, great Marxists such as Trotsky. have pointed out that workers commonly go on the offensive, not at the depth of capitalist recession, but as capitalist recovery becomes established. Return to work, even at unsatisfactory wages, restores workers confidence. Relative scarcity of labour strengthens the bargaining power of workers. This can lead to waves of strikes including “unofficial strikes, if capitulatory trade union leaderships attempt to block action.  The inevitable inequality in an economic recovery under capitalism is highly provocative. This was paricularly so  extreme neo-liberal policies of

Sinn Féin and the left should launch major national demonstrations immediately to force change on health and housing as sought by Sinn Féin. It is impossible to do so through joint government with parties committed to capitalism and protecting the rich . To attempt to do so will merely compromise Sinn Féin, destroy its popular support and demoralize the most militant sections of workers and youth.

Former Labour Party leader Dick Spring once got more than 30 Labour seats.! There was no Labour candidate standing in his constituency of Kerry in this election!Major national demonstrations and strike action ,where appropriate, to end the plight of desperate people is the road to travel. Coalition government with capitalist parties and a governmental road will lead to disaster!

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Where are the unions?  Eddie Conlon

Where Are The Unions?

“I believe that work should be undertaken with others who genuinely believe themselves to be of the left and who consider themselves to be as committed to the ideal of egalitarian society envisaged by James Connolly and James Larkin. We should not be sectarian about it. We should keep our options to work with progressive people and parties of the left of centre in order to achieve the ultimate ambition envisaged by the Labour Party for a government of, and for, the mass of working people and dispossessed of our country.”

So says Jack O Connor, former President of SIPTU, in February. But it was February 2015. Labour were in government with FG and had over 30 seats. He had high hopes for the future but was, like many union bureaucrats, completely out of touch with the mood in the working class and the growing contempt of Labour. Although his call for a left government was correct he didn’t seem to grasp the ridiculousness of doing so from the belly of a government dominated by FG. Labour were almost destroyed in 2016. Now they are in an even worse position and on the verge of obliteration. The Greens and Social Democrats should take note.

One reason for the surge to Sinn Fein, which some are finding hard to understand, is the absolute failure of the “traditional representatives” of the working class , Labour and the unions, to mount any real defense against austerity or address the real issues facing workers such as housing. What has happened is a riot at the ballot box with huge number of workers looking for real change. They have had enough of the housing and health crisis, poor public transport and childcare and low levels of pay and rights at work. In one area of Clondalkin almost 95% of voters voted for SF and PBP combined. During the election we saw a strike of teachers and a huge demonstration of child care workers. People have had enough.

Whats remarkable about the current situation is that now when there is the prospect for a left government the unions are, in the main, silent. Where you are now Jack when we need you!!!

A left government could resolve many long standing issues which the trade union movement has campaigned on: union recognition; a living wage; equal pay for new entrants to the public service; reversal of the pension age; reduction of the USC as well as others issues, such as high rents and housing shortages, which profoundly affect the quality of life of working people.

So why are’nt they calling for a left government. In the main I suspect they are in shock at what has happened. They still believe that Labour is still the workers party and many unions leaders are embroiled in resuscitating the dying animal. They are not going to support anything that cuts across this especially if it involves giving legitimacy to SF and the radical left.

These people are completely committed to social partnership. They accepted the logic of austerity and sat on their hands when pay was cut and conditions worsened. They did nothing to stop the increase in the pension age or the increase in the waiting time (from 3 to 6 days) for sickness benefit. Both measures introduced while Labour was in government. SIPTU was caught out during the election when its campaign to STOP 67 looked tame in the light of the demand to get back to 65.

Perhaps more significantly we know that the formation of a left government will pose a real challenge to the establishment and will require mobilisation to face down the threats from the board rooms, that such a government might face. Our union leaders, in the main, are not up for this. They remain committed to “industrial legality” and don’t want their role as mediators between workers and employers to be undermined, although their legitimacy as representatives of workers has been questioned with the outcome of the election.

Evidence of their craven commitment to social partnership can be seen in a speech of last October by the head of Forsa, Kevin Callinan, calling for the resurrection of social partnership. He said “Whatever its failings, and there were many, social partnership provided a mechanism to engage in genuine social dialogue with the aim of crafting policy solutions to national problems.” Is he for real ! He went to praise 1990 Industrial Relations Act as it “had led to a huge reduction in strike days.” Its worth noting that in recent weeks IBEC has also been to the fore in calling for a social dialogue. Don’t these people know that the centre hasn’t held and that increasing polarisation is the order of the day as workers realise that their problems can’t be solved by cosying up to the establishment and lying down with employers who are increasingly hostile to workers organisations.

But not all unions have been silent. The heads of the Right 2Water unions have issued a statement calling for a left government. John Douglas, the leader of Mandate, rightly says that “Any attempt to return to a cobbled together “old style coalition” involving Fine Gael and Fianna Fail is not in the best interests of our country and would be a power grab against the wishes of the massive electoral mandate given to Sinn Fein and the broad left.”

This is a good start but needs to be backed up with actions. These unions need to become active players in the fight for a left government. They can’t sit passively and allow the idea to be killed off, which the current impasse is in danger of doing. They need to make it clear to the establishment parties and those parties who would prop them up, such as the Greens and the Social Democrats, that real change must be delivered and the best mechanism to do so is a government of the left backed up by serious mobilisation on the streets.

They should also make it clear that any government that does not reverse the pension age increase, does not bring in a Living Wage and serious measures to halt and reverse rent increases will face a campaign of industrial action. Indeed the best thing they could do now, given the popular mood, is to immediately announce that they are balloting their members for industrial action on the pension age. This would certainly add to the momentum for change, give a boost to the rising expectations of workers and make people believe that, yes, real change can be delivered.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————-Sinn Féin on General Election Outcome

This still incomplete national liberation phase in Ireland is fast approaching its tipping point.

Over 700,000 citizens have voted for Sinn Féin both north and south since last December.

They all voted, and endorsed the need for change.

Now the change is unstoppable.”-Sinn Féin

DECLAN KEARNEY, SINN FÉIN NATIONAL CHAIRPERSON

“The general election confirmed Sinn Féin as the largest party in the southern state, representing the community and class interests of working people, with a massive mandate of over half a million votes. Make no mistake, this general election is another watershed” – Declan Kearney MLA

Nothing stays the same.

Time doesn’t stand still.

Politics and society are constantly in flux.

But sometimes change is shaped and driven by significant watersheds.

In modern Irish history the 1916 Easter Rising, The Tan War, the civil rights campaign in the north, and the 1980/81 Hunger Strikes each stand out as epoch making periods.

More recently the onset of Brexit has been hugely influential on the Irish political landscape. 

Nearly one hundred years ago, a counter revolution eclipsed the popular struggle for national independence and social change in Ireland, sparked by the 1916 Rising, and culminating in the partition of Ireland.

 Two political parties emerged from that cauldron and went on to politically dominate what became a deeply conservative southern state, in the interests of a new Irish ruling class elite.

Those two parties came to be known as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

No government in the south of Ireland has existed since 1923 without the dominant influence of either Fine Gael, (and its immediate predecessor Cumann na nGaedheal), or Fianna Fáil.

Both parties in power facilitated a regressive theocratic influence by the Catholic Church hierarchy over society and government.

These parties also presided over economic and social policies which caused mass emigration, economic inequality and poverty, and the marginalisation and neglect of rural Ireland.

They approved of, and used summary execution, internment without trial, censorship, and also oppressive laws to repress political dissent, and against republican activists in particular.

The actions of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, from the foundation of the State atrophied the aspiration and vision of an egalitarian, national Republic set out by the 1916 Proclamation, and the subsequent Democratic Programme of the First Dáil in 1919.

More recently, disastrous fiscal mismanagement by successive Fianna Fáil administrations resulted in the crash of the southern economy in 2008, and the imposition of an IMF bail out programme, from which the south of Ireland is still recovering.

Since then two Fine Gael-led coalition governments have created deep, systemic health and housing/homeless crises, which are now at a cliff edge. 

During the mandate of the last Dáil (Irish Parliament), Fianna Fáil propped up a hapless Fine Gael government with a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement.

This political arrangement demonstrated the indistinguishable character of these two parties in terms of political orientation and policy. 

Tweedledum and Tweedledee! 

All of those realities overshadowed the southern general election last weekend.

The almost one hundred year legacy of right-wing dominance by these parties was a central focus of the election.

The demand for change defined the explicit popular narrative throughout the campaign.

Sinn Féin became the political lightning rod of this state-wide momentum. 

From the earliest moments of the campaign it was clear something profound was happening within southern society.

I have never seen anything like it before, perhaps with the exception of the popular mood which surrounded the H Block Hunger Strikes in 1980/1981.

In places like Donegal I canvassed homes with traditional allegiances to Fine Gael, and discovered that younger, and even older voters were switching to vote Sinn Féin. 

Elsewhere in large working-class estates I visited in Galway, such as Ballybane, Mervue and Merlin, it was obvious there was a motivated surge of good will and support towards Sinn Féin’s programme for economic, social and political change.

Motorists stopped their vehicles, and ordinary citizens walked across the street to discuss the election, and tell us why they were so angry with the establishment parties. 

Time after time, door after door, we were told across the south that this election had to be about change: That Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had their chance and squandered it: And, that now it was time for Sinn Féin to get a chance at delivering real change in citizens’ lives – by investing in good public services, and guaranteeing people’s rights to proper health care, and access to affordable homes.

People agreed with Sinn Féin that it was time to give workers and their families a break. 

And, they also wanted to talk about Irish unity!

Many who I canvassed were genuinely pleased that a government minister from the north was at their doors asking for their support to make change.

They had never seen a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael minister in their neighbourhood before, far less on their door steps.

People liked the idea of Sinn Féin being in government in the north, and the prospect of our party also delivering government in the south. 

So on 8th February the electorate went to the polls.

There was an electoral earthquake.

And, yes, it was seismic.

Some lazy commentators have tried since to dismiss what happened as populism. 

The fact is that the popular refrain for change during this campaign translated into a decision by voters to use the ballot box as an act of rebellion against the status quo: To rebel against the dominance of the two conservative parties and their symbiotic relationships with the banking cartels, property developers and big landlords.

What happened is without historic precedence.

Sinn Féin emerged with the biggest share of the popular vote – 24.5% – one in every four voters; and a total of 37 seats (an increase of 15).

Fine Gael had its second worst election in history.

Fianna Fáil took 22.2% of the vote, finishing up with 38 seats – one of which was uncontested, because it returned the previous incumbent Speaker from the last Dáil. 

Sinn Féin sought and received a mandate for government to deliver change, and this week we began a process of exploring the potential of government formation with other parties, on the basis of ending the health and homeless crises; delivering sustainable public services; building 100,000 homes; reducing the retirement age to 65 years; and, advancing Irish unity.

The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle authorised a negotiation mandate to explore formation of a government for change with other parties.

Sinn Féin wants to be in government to make the progressive change which people clearly desire.

We are committed to cooperating with others to bring that about. 

It is a very fundamental, democratic position, and yet almost immediately the Fine Gael leadership arrogantly announced that it would not speak with Sinn Féin about government formation.

Then just days later a similar position was taken by the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. 

Of course the Fianna Fáil leadership and parliamentary party attempts to exclude Sinn Féin from government stems from the fact that they do not want, at this time, to build the houses, reduce the pension age, freeze rents, and cut the ministerial and TD salaries.

The stances adopted by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are neither sustainable or credible. In fact they are intrinsically anti-democratic. 

It’s worth recalling Ian Paisley’s reply when asked to explain his decision to enter government in the north with Sinn Féin in 2007: He said: “Because the people elected them. That is democracy and they are not going away.” 

During the period from January 2017 when power sharing was suspended in the north, both leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil cynically demanded that Sinn Féin should go back into coalition government with parties which had totally undermined the very basis of power sharing, without resolving the reasons for the political crisis.

Through the sustained efforts of Sinn Féin and others, power-sharing government has again been restored.  

Our party currently sits in a regional government with four other political parties with totally diverging ideological and political perspectives on social and economic policy and on constitutional change in Ireland. 

The effect of the apparently entrenched and unchanging positions of the two conservative parties poses two scenarios: Either Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael coalesce, or there is another election.

Fianna Fáil has already said it will not go into government with Fine Gael, despite their previous ‘confidence and supply’ agreement in the last mandate.

But cynical double standards provides only a partial explanation for their shared refusal to talk with Sinn Féin about future government formation.

The reality is that the Irish establishment, and its vested economic, financial, and class interests has been rocked to its very core by the electoral revolution of last weekend. 

The significance of the electoral and political set backs for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are huge.

Their rotational dominance in government, which secured the Irish establishment’s interests for decades, has been ended.

The general election confirmed Sinn Féin as the largest party in the southern state, representing the community and class interests of working people, with a massive mandate of over half a million votes.

Make no mistake, this general election is another watershed.

The joint refusal of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to talk with Sinn Féin is an absolute defiance of democratic norms.

Nearly one hundred years on, a modern day counter revolution is being mounted against the democratic will of the people. 

The Irish establishment parties have effectively launched ‘a very Irish coup’ in an attempt to subvert the popular demand for change, and to stop Sinn Féin from getting into government. 

The socialist republican leader Liam Mellows warned in 1922, before his execution by a Cumann na nGaedheal government:  

“The time will inevitably come, if this Free State comes into existence, when you will have a permanent government in the country, and permanent governments in any country have a dislike to being turned out.” 

Those words have a powerful relevance for today.

Three weeks ago the British state left the European Union. One of the unintended consequences of Brexit has been to put a debate about constitutional change and Irish unity centre stage.

The Irish establishment fears this debate: And the British do not want it to take place.

But that genie is out of the bottle.

Sinn Féin is in government in the north of Ireland. It is only a matter of time until we are also in government in the south.

Politics has started to realign in Ireland. 

The results of the last election are new evidence of that.

Momentum is fuelling the political and civic discourse on constitutional change and reunification. 

International support for Irish unity is growing. Brexit has made the partition of Ireland a European issue. 

‘We are back to Connolly and Mellows, and it is just as well.’ For republicans, progressives and democrats who seek maximum political and social change, the ideas of Connolly and Mellows have never been more relevant.

This still incomplete national liberation phase in Ireland is fast approaching its tipping point. 

Over 700,000 citizens have voted for Sinn Féin both north and south since last December.

They all voted, and endorsed the need for change.

Now the change is unstoppable.


 

ARY 2020     LRB Blog     London Review of Books

The Sinn Féin Surge

Daniel Finn 

 Daniel Finn is the author of One Man’s Terrorist: A Political History of the IRA. November 2019.

When Leo Varadkar called a snap general election for 8 February, he had a comforting scenario in mind. With a Brexit deal finally in the bag after Boris Johnson’s victory in December, the Taoiseach would brandish his credentials as a statesman who had steered the country through some choppy geopolitical waters. Varadkar’s centre-right Fine Gael party was polling an average of 29 per cent last year; a good election campaign might push that into the thirties, well above their 2016 vote share, and an excellent showing after nearly a decade in government.

Both Varadkar and his Fianna Fáil counterpart, Micheál Martin, wanted to end the de facto grand coalition between their parties, and revive the old pattern that had seen Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil alternate in power since 1932 with backing from such smaller groups as Labour and the Greens. Support for the two centre-right parties had fallen precipitously, from 69 per cent in 2007 to less than 50 per cent in 2016. This was meant to be the election in which they bounced back. Instead, their combined vote share slumped to an all-time low and they were overtaken by Sinn Féin, which got 24.5 per cent of first preference votes, to Fianna Fáil’s 22.2 per cent and Fine Gael’s 20.9 per cent.

Nobody expected this outcome, least of all Sinn Féin. The party leadership thought they’d struggle to hold onto some of the seats they won in 2016. Last year’s local and European elections saw Sinn Féin lose two of its three MEPs and nearly half of its councillors. Because of its defensive strategy, which seemed prudent when the election was called, the party won’t have a seat share that matches its vote: the Irish electoral system has multi-seat constituencies, and in many places Sinn Féin could have taken a second seat if it had run more than one candidate. They won’t make that mistake again.

This is unambiguously a turn to the left by Irish voters. Some journalists who should know better represent Sinn Féin as the Irish counterpart of the Rassemblement National in France or Germany’s AfD. In fact, the party has a better record of defending immigrants against racism than its rivals (the actual far right in Ireland refers to Sinn Féin as ‘globalist traitors’). The party’s TD for Sligo-Leitrim, Martin Kenny, was the target of death threats and an arson attack after he spoke in defence of asylum seekers last year; he topped the poll on Saturday.

Sinn Féin’s success owes a lot to pent-up anger among younger voters about the state of post-recession Ireland. Feel-good articles in the international media hailing the Irish recovery don’t capture the mood on the ground. Some of the recent economic growth is fictitious, the product of Ireland’s status as a tax haven; even when the growth is real, it tends to be concentrated in high-tech, high-wage sectors that bypass the majority of Irish workers. Public services haven’t recovered from years of gouging austerity, and a recharged property boom has made home ownership unattainable for many. One of Varadkar’s most telling mishaps on the campaign trail came when he proudly recalled buying his first home at the age of 24.

The Sinn Féin surge manifested itself in the first polls of the campaign and held up until election day. The broadcasters had to scramble to catch up: the first leaders’ debate, in late January, pitted Varadkar against Martin; but the Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, joined them on stage for the final debate on 4 February, changing the whole dynamic. Instead of sparring against one another with subtly different pitches (low taxes v. investment in public services; a strong economy v. ‘an Ireland for all’), Varadkar and Martin had to form a bloc against McDonald, reinforcing the image of them as two wings of the same bird.

In the last week of the campaign, the conservative parties and their media allies stressed Sinn Féin’s historic ties with the IRA and accused it of planning to scrap the juryless Special Criminal Court (which tries terrorism and serious organised crime cases). None of the attacks seemed to resonate, however, with those who were contemplating a vote for Sinn Féin. McDonald’s predecessor, Gerry Adams, had enough personal baggage to fill a cargo hold, but the party is now led by a younger, postwar generation. That Sinn Féin had served in government with its Unionist opponents in Belfast for more than a decade made it harder to credit the predictions of doom if the party were to exercise power in Dublin.

The next few weeks will test all the conventions of government formation in Ireland. If the conservative parties refuse to deal with their emboldened rival – and Varadkar has explicitly ruled it out – they could join forces again, allowing Sinn Féin to lead the opposition. But they would only be setting themselves up for a heavier defeat next time. If they won’t work together, and no one is able to form a government, there will have to be a repeat election in a few months’ time. And that, too, is likely to strengthen Sinn Féin, especially if it runs more candidates.

For its part, Sinn Féin will have to be very careful in making its next move. The Irish Labour Party made a comparable breakthrough in 2011 but slumped to its worst ever performance five years later after a coalition deal with the centre right. If Sinn Féin doesn’t satisfy the desire for change that powered its electoral triumph, it may lose its new supporters as quickly as it gained them.

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