Sinn Fein in Government: One Year Later.

The bond markets have responded well to Finance Minister Pearse Doherty’s first budget, with the articulate Sinn Fein Donegal TD handling himself adeptly on a series of US, UK and European business news shows. The fact that new Sinn Fein/Fianna Fail coalition increased welfare spending whilst not touching the taxation of foreign multinationals was remarked upon. Taxes on the incomes of those earning over €100k have increased, as has employers PRSI, but most of those taxes have proven to be symbolic. They have raised a few hundred million out of a nation budget of over €105 billion. The reality is that Doherty has funded most of his substantial welfare increases (the €25 per week dole and pension increases were showstoppers) from borrowing, and whilst the markets have cut Doherty some slack this time, he’s hedging everything on growth funding (with accompanying growth in tax revenue) next year’s splashout. There was much sniggering in Ireland at Doherty’s brandishing of previous Irish government’s refusal to default on sovereign debt as a means of securing his own reputation.

Sinn Fein have continued to be masters of political communication, with the party lodged in the mid-thirties, neck and necking with Paschal Donohoe’s Fine Gael, whilst the Michael McGrath-led coalition partners have seen their poll rating drop into single digits. “Fianna Fail: why?” was an effective FG slogan attacking the government.

The surprise poll winners of recent months have been Aontú, holding at a steady 9% on a platform of immigration control (although not racism) and taunting Sinn Fein for not delivering on its more populist policies. Whilst issues like the Israeli ambassador still being in the country and US planes still landing in Shannon have little traction with voters, they do catch the attention of the media and Sinn Fein’s young urban vote. Aontú also took a leaf from Sinn Fein’s book by employing savvy social media operators who flooded Twitter and TikTok with clips of SF TDs in opposition saying the exact opposite of what they say as ministers. “The Two Faces of Sinn Fein Led by MaryTwo McDonald” was one memorable slogan.

One serious defeat for the government was the failure of the Right to Housing referendum, which was defeated 58/42, under a deluge of attacks that it would allow the government to confiscate private property without compensation, and that it would allow every refugee to claim a house on arrival. The campaign collapsed when housing minister Eoin O’Broin admitted that it was only a symbolic right and could not actually be enforced by a court. His discovery as minister that he faced all the same supply, legal, material and labour problems as his predecessors came as a shock, and he visibly aged more than any other member of the cabinet. He was reduced to driving more private landlords out of the market to prove he was doing something.

One other challenge facing the party has been a spike in public disorder by gangs of youths under the impression that Sinn Fein in government would order the Gardai to leave them alone. Given that a lot of the incidents were occurring in Sinn Fein heartland vote areas it wasn’t long before older SF voters were demanding action, and the minister for justice was ordering a tougher line. This is turn let to accusations of betrayal (with the parties of the left quick to come out with the Fianna Fein slur) by the youths involved and a number of SF TDs offices being torched and having to be protected by shielded Gardai.

The party, heading into the local elections, is stacking a lot of chips on the United Ireland referendum, to be held on the same day as the elections in the hope it will encourage their core vote to turn out. The voters will be asked a simple question: “Do you support the reunification of Ireland?”. Polls say it will pass easily, but polls are moving as those campaigning against point out that it is the Irish version of Brexit, with no detail given as to what is being voted on. The government has refused to rule out that it will use the result as the final say on whatever agreement is arrived at with regards to a future agreement.

What if a Right-Wing Government was elected in Ireland (Part 3)

One of the questions political pundits asked as the results of the Irish general election of 2034 came in was how no one had predicted it. One older pundit pointed out that the new generation of political correspondents simply were not paying attention to the technical details of the voting system changes the government had made, more concerned with running vox pops and high-emotion stories, but there was a more significant factor at play. The outgoing government had quietly amended the terms of reference of the constituency boundary commission to push their constitutional limit, and restrict all constituencies to a maximum of three seats. Sinn Fein, as the main opposition party, had made a perfunctory objection but then had gone quiet for the exact same reason the NDP supported it. Because under the Irish Single Transferable Vote system, a small number of seat per constituency makes the quota of votes needed to be elected higher, and generally that allows larger party candidates to stay in the count longer, picking up additional preferences as the smaller parties’ candidates get eliminated. It makes a two party system more likely, especially with polls showing both the NDP and Sinn Fein neck and necking in the late 30s.

The Progressive Alliance (PA) of Fianna Fail, Labour, the Social Democrats and the Greens had, much to the surprise of the media, managed to agree a pact, running joint PA candidates, and between them had polled into the early teens right up until the final week before polling day, and the TV debate between the party leaders. Both Sinn Fein and the NDP had insisted that all party leaders be invited, not just the charismatic senator PJ Okono of Fianna Fail, the de facto alliance leader. Despite his pleading, the other three ineffectual party leaders insisted upon attending. Okono, who was probably the finest political orator of his generation, was reduced in time to fit in the others, and failed to have the impact he could have had in the debate, just as Sinn Fein and the NDP planned.

The count revealed its secrets quickly. The NDP vote had dropped slightly, and the alliance parties had all seen an increase in their votes, but the three seat carve-up (“The EveMander”, a few wags called it) delivered exactly as expected. PA candidates were doing respectably but narrowly losing the third seats to either NDP or SF candidates. As the final results came in on Sunday morning, it was clear that the NDP had scraped a slightly increased majority, and that the country was now a Two Party With Scraps system, the only real benefit being Okono topping the poll in Mayo and other PA candidates acting as sweepers for Fianna Fail. Fine Gael barely registered in the election, its voters and members effectively decamped to the NDP or Fianna Fail.

 

Irish general election 2034
% Seats
New Dems 43 86
SF 43 72
FG 2 0
FF 5 8
Labour 2 0
Green 2 0
Soc Dems 1 0
Alphabet left 1 0
Independents 1 0
100 170 Majority 85

The newly-elected government moved quickly on its success. The referendum on polling day to allow the government to limit the number of asylum seekers passed by 62%, and despite various objections from the European Commission and the European Parliament the reality was there were enough governments of comparable bent sitting on the European Council to allow the government to “do an Orban” and ignore Brussels on this matter. Work began immediately on building state of the art refugee processing centres modelled more on Centre Parcs than the dire Direct Provision facilities. The far-right mounted protests outside NDP TDs offices that the government was building “resorts for foriegners”.

The new budget finally delivered on the national security commitments promised for decades by various governments. The government would meet the 2% NATO defence spending obligation (despite not being in NATO), and would soon take delivery of a dozen second-hand Rafale fighters from France, as well as four brand new Naval vessels specifically equipped for patrolling Ireland’s undersea infrastructure and acting against unauthorised vessels sub-surface. There would also be considerable investment in existing and new Defence Forces facilities acros sthe country. However, the minister for defence told the house that given the controversial nature of additional security spending, extra funding to specific counties would only go ahead with the written consent of local TDs. If local TDs objected, the extra funding would go to other counties. The opposition were in uproar for forty minutes.

The government also decided to focus on the question of a United Ireland. The previous Sinn Fein government had set up a citizen’s assembly which had produced a report with much aspiration and little detail, and so the government decided to move forward, commissioning an expert legal panel to draft a new constitution for a United Ireland to act as a debate opening document.

The Taoiseach also raised the age-old question of funding the new entity. Speaking at the commissioning of the new naval ship LE Fiontar, she announced that a country that was serious about reunification should start planning for it, and so the government intended to introduce a modest Unity Tax on income, pensions and social welfare payments, the revenue which would go into a “lockbox” to fund the gap in spending if needed when a United Ireland eventually came about. She stressed that pretty much every adult in the country would pay it, as she had no doubt that every Irish patriot would be happy to make a contribution to such an enterprise. Finally, however, she said that given it was such a long-term plan, saving money for possibly years or decades, she would put the proposal to a referendum and that the Irish people would finally be able to firmly put their foot down in favour of a United Ireland, but also show they world they were just talking about it but putting their money where their mouths where.

As if that weren’t enough, she also announced that the government intended to seek approval in a referendum to proceed with the building of a number of nuclear power plants around the country, along side a number of fast-tracked massive wind and solar farms, both on and offshore. She stressed that no community would be forced to take either without prior approval in a local plebiscite. However, she also proposed that given we were asking local communities to carry the burden of national energy infrastructure, those same communities would also be designated, if they voted accordingly, income tax free zones up to a very generous threshold, the idea being that such a threshold would protect house prices as it would transfer with the home.

We will, she said, abide by the will of the people.

What if…a Right-Wing government was elected in Ireland (part 2)

The announcement by the Ceann Comhairle that Eve Hennessy had been elected Taoiseach was met with a wave of shouts and boos from the large demonstration that nearly filled both Molesworth and Kildare Streets. The signs, announcing “#StopTheSteal” and “the election was stolen” gave a clear indication as to the views of the crowd. Ogra Shinn Fein, who made up a significant proportion of the crowd, also held up signs calling for a “republican court” to put the outgoing Taoiseach on trial for collaboration because she announced that she did in fact accept the election result as legitimate.

Outgoing Sinn Fein ministers were abused far more than incoming NDP TDs.  The outgoing FF ministers had all lost their seats to either Sinn Fein or the NDP.

The speed at which the new government moved surprised many, despite the fact that it had all been clearly telegraphed by Hennessy from the election. Over 40 pre-prepared pieces of legislation were placed before the Oireachtas despite massive protests from the opposition parties who attacked the government for “steamrollering” the parliament. Hennessy replied by extending the sitting hours of both houses.

Continue reading

What if…a right wing government was elected in Ireland?

The exit poll for the 2029 general election caused gasps in the studio. Recent polls had shown that the outgoing Sinn Fein/Fianna Fail coalition was struggling but still competitive. The New Democrats, led by former FG TD for Dublin Rathdown, Eve Hennessy,  were doing better than expected. The polls had given the new party a consistent support level in the late-thirties, with her former party struggling to keep about 10%. But as the first boxes opened on the Saturday morning, there was much talk of what was termed “shy Tory syndrome”, where voters are embarrassed to admit to voting for certain (usually right wing) parties, but acting accordingly in the privacy of the polling booth.

Hennessy had been mocked when she had been elected in the disastrous (for FG) election of 2025 which had seen SF come to power. From a wealthy south Dublin family, Hennessy had proceeded to become one of the wealthiest people in the country when she founded the Banshee Group which manufactured both civilian and military drones. She had rapidly become disheartened with FG in opposition, and the prevailing belief that some sort of natural electoral pendulum would restore the party to power eventually. Watching SF in power, she simply did not accept that, and speaking in a debate in UCD (in what the media would call The Belfield Platform) she took no prisoners and outlined a broadly right wing view of how Ireland should proceed.

Continue reading

What if…a right-wing populist was elected President of Ireland (Part 2.)

Previously in the future…

https://jasonomahony.ie/what-if-a-right-wing-populist-was-elected-president-of-ireland/#more-19793

 

A populist right-wing former radio pundit has narrowly been elected President of Ireland, to the shock and disgust of certain parts of Irish society. The Taoiseach has visited the new president to remind him of his constitutional duty to sign new legislation…

The president placed the constitution on the table.

“That says you need my signature on every bill.”

“It also says you are required to promulgate every bill,” the Taoiseach said. Her attorney general had drilled the point into her.

“Whatever promulgate means. But what if I refuse to sign? Are you going to get a few lads in balaclavas to force my hand across the page?”

She ignored the jibe.

“No, article 14 is very clear. If you refuse to carry out any function, a commission consisting of the chief justice, ceann comhairle and cathoirleach can sign instead.”

“Grand, then. That effectively means I can publicly reject legislation without bringing down the country?”

The Taoiseach shrugged.

The following weeks saw the president, a prolific Twitter and Tik Tok user during the campaign, use the social platform for relatively mild observations. It was only when a new hate speech bill was put before the Oireachtas that he stirred.

Continue reading

What if…a right-wing populist was elected President of Ireland?

When He announced his candidacy there was much laughter in the usual circles. The idea that a “washed up” radio presenter and sports pundit could be elected president was, it was agreed in the circles that mattered, ridiculous. The New Ireland was not going to elect Trump on the Liffey.

The ruling Sinn Fein/Fianna Fail/Social Democrat government wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about even holding a presidential election, as the shiny new thing aura had come off the government and feelers had been put out to the opposition about an agreed candidate, Now Is Not the Time For Division, etc. But FG, Labour and the Greens weren’t having it. The race was on.

The first surprise was the three leaders of the coalition announcing that they would be all endorsing a single coalition candidate, and that given the flaky wobbliness of the Social Democrats remaining in government when actually confronted with policy choices, both SF and FF conceded and backed a former one-term Soc Dem TD and now senator renowned for being at the cutting edge of Irish progressivism. Her supporters, gathering at the launch of her campaign in the Merrion Hotel (Vegan nibbles only) were almost giddy at the idea of her taking on the misogynist, racist transphobe radio presenter, and delivering a clean killer blow to the Old Ireland. “It’s such a pity HE won’t be on the ballot!” she announced to cheers and jazz hands (Clapping was banned for being too aggressive) from the crowd.

 FG surprised all by not nominating a former Taoiseach and instead a former MEP who was “very good” and instantly forgettable.

Continue reading

What if…King Charles III sought a democratic mandate?

The British prime minister brushed her sweeping blonde hair back from her eyes, giving herself a moment to consider what the new king had just asked her. It had to be said: Charles had taken on the mantle of sovereign before her eyes, with surprising ease.

Yes, he had spent his whole life waiting for this moment, as had the country, but the transformation from gangly awkward youth to a more well-filled figure had made him look, quite simply, more like a king.

Continue reading

Sinn Fein backs pre-unification Unity Tax.

Mary Lou McDonald TD

The leader of Sinn Fein, Mary Lou McDonald TD (Dublin Central), has announced that Sinn Fein will support the creation of a significant levy on all incomes, pensions and social welfare payments ahead of a border poll to create a unification fund.

“It makes sense that given the fact that the north of Ireland will require a significant subsidy from taxpayers in the south, at least in the short to medium term, that we start preparing for this now. By putting aside the funds now, with a gradually increasing Unity Levy we will avoid the sharp tax raises that a sudden British departure would require,” Ms McDonald said in an interview with RTE yesterday.

“I’m confident that in the long-term the economic growth generated by unity will allow the north to pay its way. Sinn Fein in government will introduce this levy to allow us to smooth the way without disrupting public services in the north. When East Germany was integrated into the EU there was some EU support, but the vast majority of funding came from west German taxpayers through a solidarity tax they just stopped paying recently. We need to study that model.”

When asked would all adults be required to contribute, she said that she had no doubt that regardless of income, every patriot would want to play their part and make their contribution.

Questioned about the British taxpayer continuing to meet the financial obligations of the north of Ireland after unification, she pointed out that “we can’t even get the Tories to fund the north when they actually own it, so I wouldn’t be relying on them.”

What if…Ireland changed its voting system?

There are perennials of Irish political debate, and none more perennial than “We need to get rid of multi-seat constituencies” as the solution to all our political woes. If only we got rid of the “parish pump” competition at local level, we’d get a better standard of TD.

There’s also a growing body in the country who have latched on to the “nobody voted for this coalition government” argument, and are yearning for a British-style election result, where one party (usually) clearly wins regardless of how the actual people of that country actually vote. Nobody may have voted for this government, but they didn’t vote for any other one either.

It’ll never happen, of course. The Irish people have been asked twice before to change the voting system, and have refused for clear reason. PR-STV isn’t going anywhere: in fact, I suspect it would be next to impossible to even get the referendum bill past the Oireachtas, never mind win a referendum. The most a government might get away with is reducing the constituency seats to three seaters, which would hurt small parties and give larger parties a seat bonus.

But even that’s risky: FG/Lab tried the infamous “Tullymander” in the 1977 general election, and it rebounded on them spectacularly giving FF the biggest majority in Irish history.

But if it were to happen, what would be the outcome? It depends on the alternative system. The most popular system on the continent, a list system, where people vote for a party and it fills seats based on the share of the vote it gets from a list of candidates, is unlikely to be accepted here. Most Irish voters wants to vote for an individual.

As a result, the most likely options are First Past The Post (FPTP) or STV in single seat constituencies (also known as the Alternative Vote). Either would be a radical change, but both would have side effects which I suspect would not please advocates of change.

First Past the Post (FPTP) is the simplest voting system on Earth, a point its British advocates make a lot of noise about. Indeed, during the AV referendum in 2011, one of the main arguments used against the Irish electoral system was that it was too complicated for British voters. FPTP involves making a mark against a single candidate, and the most marks win. It allows a party to win a majority of the seats with a minority of the vote and is most likely to deliver a clear single party government even if a majority of the voters didn’t vote for it.  In 2005 it got Tony Blair a 60 seat majority despite 65% of voters not voting for him. Justin Trudeau got the most seats in the last two Canadian elections despite coming second to the Tories in votes. If you like your voting system to just vomit out results with occasionally a tangential link to how actual voters vote, FPTP is the one for you. It’s used in the UK, India, Canada, parts of the US and within some PR systems.

The Alternative Vote is used in Australia and is basically the same system we use in Ireland in presidential elections and  by-elections. It tends to create a de facto two-party system, as small parties rarely win seats, although their preferences do often decide the outcome, unlike FPTP.

Either system would be far less proportional than PRSTV, but it’s worth bearing in mind the role political culture would play hand in hand with either system. In the 1990s, hoping create a new more decisive political culture, Italy introduced FPTP for 75% of the seats in the lower house, with a 25% party list top-up. Whilst it did lead to some consolidation of parties, it also led to parties doing deals to stand down against each other in specific constituencies.

If Ireland switched to a single-seat system under either FPTP or AV, the number of constituencies would jump from 43 large ones currently to 168 much smaller ones (many the size of council wards), most with a nominal sitting deputy. But it would also open up a huge swathe of constituencies for parties that have no seat in them. For Sinn Fein and (probably) Fine Gael this would suit them, assuming they’d lead in many constituencies and would hope for transfers to get to the very high 50%+1 quota (under AV) or just the most votes under FPTP. For smaller parties, and I’m assuming FF in this (rightly or wrongly) there’d be a choice, be also-rans under FPTP or transfer fodder under AV. But there’d be alternatives too.

Under FPTP, FF, Labour, the Greens and the Social Democrats, all with sitting TDs, could form a pact and run a single “Alliance” candidate in each constituency, giving them a chance at least. It wouldn’t be easy: all four parties would have members with problems, but FPTP is unforgiving. Get your shit together or see your votes just be ignored, especially as SF and FG would both be telling those parties voters that they were wasting their votes or helping the other big party by voting for the alliance.

AV would offer a similar challenge, although without the vote wastage of FPTP. Given the need to reach 50% of the vote, it’s not impossible that the two big parties might be willing to do a deal with smaller parties, even standing down in some constituencies or promising Seanad seats in return for transfer endorsements. Both would actively need transfers unlike under FPTP. One issue with AV would be the challenge for SF to get transfers even if it has an impressive first preference lead nationally. It’s not impossible that, as happened to FF in the 2011 election, preferences keeping going against SF to the extent (and angry frustration of SF supporters) that SF loses seats narrowly to other parties despite having, in their eyes, clearly “won” the election in terms of having come first in votes.

Interestingly, both systems could seriously hurt the Alphabet Left who would struggle to reach the vote levels requires to come first or meet the quota.

Either system would make a single party government more likely, although AV would require much greater voter consent. Having said that, the backroom dealing that permeates Irish politics could still result in a tiny number of TDs holding even more power than they do now. After all, even if Kerry or Tipp were transformed into multiple single-seat constituencies, would you absolutely rule out Michael Lowry or the Healy-Raes taking some of them?