There are two constants of recent opinion polling of party support in Ireland today. The first is that Sinn Fein is holding firm in the late teens/early twenties, and the second is that Labour is facing the loss of between half and two thirds of their seats in the Dail. Given that political racegoer’s catnip that is the STV voting system, it does mean that we can only go so far in terms of seat predictions. However, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the current Fine Gael/Labour majority might find difficulty in reassembling after an election under these figures.
What catches the eye, all the same, is the Sinn Fein position. It’s not fantastical to suggest Sinn Fein could emerge with 20 seats or thereabouts, and be in a position, possibly with a small number of independents (of which polls suggest there may be no shortage) to put Fianna Fail or Fine Gael into power.
What’s interesting about this scenario is the assumption among many Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael supporters that Sinn Fein, on being offered cabinet seats in the mythical year of 2016 will automatically “do a Gilmore” and roll over for the two big parties, thus restoring the natural order of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael empowered by their junior mudguard parties, as the PDs, Greens and Labour have discovered before them.
I’m not convinced. Sinn Fein has shown a greater grasp of both patience and long-term strategic thinking than any other party on the island (with the exception of the DUP, who let David Trimble destroy himself and his party doing the heavy lifting, and then sold out their own alleged principles at the end when all the work was done). Before them is the golden calf of a Sinn Fein-led government in the republic, which could be seriously in reach if Sinn Fein sits out the next government and forces Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to enter power together.
Will Sinn Fein blink? A Fianna Fáil-Sinn Fein coalition lets Labour go after Sinn Fein’s disappointed (and they will be) left wing base, thus saving Labour. It also will complete Sinn Fein’s transformation, through the reality of decision making in government, into just another crowd of politicians blaming the senior partner for the broken promises of opposition. Or as we call it: The Labour Party in Government.
Will Sinn Fein learn the lessons of the PDs, Greens and Labour, or will they become just the latest version of Fianna Fail’s human shield?
Note: If any Sinn Fein or Fianna Fáil activist would like to write a guest blog on this issue, you can contact me on email@example.com