The General Election has passed (actually, at the time of writing a few recounts were still ongoing) and it is possibly the most interesting election in the history of the state. And while that is a statement that is surely said after nearly every election, it is definitely true for this election, if not just for one fact: no matter who you voted for, no matter what party (or lack thereof) you voted for, everyone has essentially voted for a Sinn Féin government.
At the time of writing there are several possible options for the formation of a government: a minority government formed by Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil (unlikely); a rainbow coalition formed by a series of left wing parties, namely Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats, the Green Party, the AAA/PBP and a collection of independents (incredibly unlikely) and, finally, a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil coalition. While the first option is possible, and actually likely, it is unlikely to last long enough to perform capably. The second is unlikely for several reasons, namely any minority party (namely the Greens) will never go into Government for fear of the near-annihilation that met other minority government parties in the past (namely the Greens). The third option is the most interesting. So why is any vote in the (first?) 2016 General Election a vote for Sinn Féin? It mainly pertains to this third point.
One of the most common sights on social media during the election campaign was a simple flowchart. There has been a massive discontent bubbling in the electorate for years, at the very least going back to the Celtic Tiger, in the civil war political system we’ve been stuck in. The narrative that came to a head during this election was that one either had to vote for the people who ruined the economy or the people who failed to fix it (and took the shilling off the pension). There is an apathy in the electorate beyond giving a protest vote to some wacky independent: people are genuinely sick of the sisyphean options we’re perpetually presented with. What major party hasn’t been given a shot a screwing it up yet? Sinn Féin.
The scariest bits about this narrative are twofold: the relative quickness of its gaining in popularity & the truth in it. When I was a kid, listening to my parents, grandparents & older cousins discuss who they were going to vote for, I vividly remember the laughter my cousin was met with when he said he was going to use the first vote in his life for Sinn Féin. I’m still not sure if the laughter was entirely for the fact that Sinn Féin in the South was, at the time, a joke, or because his rational for doing so essentially boiled down to ‘Up de ra.’ And while Sinn Féin were conceived as being a bit of a joke until not too long ago, you cannot help but be partially swayed by the idea of giving someone new a go at the reins of Dáil Éireann.
The most interesting way to think about Sinn Féin is definitely through the lens of the past. I remember a history teacher telling us of how Gerry Adams’ voice was dubbed over on television broadcasts during the Troubles. So feared was it by media that this man (viewed upon as an agent of the IRA, essentially. This author has no comment on the reasoning) might be humanised and his cause bought into. In a stark contrast, my 14 year old cousin wants nothing more than a selfie with Gerry, or at least a copy of a book collection of his best Tweets. To say Sinn Féin has gone through a stark PR overhaul in recent years is putting it lightly. While the association with the IRA cannot be shook, with it being brought up at seemingly every opportunity by the media, this in itself presents an opportunity: for the party to move on. It is perceivable that, in the near future, a Sinn Féin without the likes of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness & Martin Ferris at the helm could be seen completely differently, comparable to Fine Gael’s uneasy relationship with its Blueshirt past.
If not Gerry, then who? Who will lead this ‘new Sinn Féin?’ Simple: literally anyone. Current Deputy President Mary Lou MacDonald has benefited immensely from not being Gerry Adams. Previously seen as harsh, imposing and scary as most women in politics are, most see Mary Lou as a capable leader & strong politician. After that, and removing the old guard, you have a Sinn Féin packed with young, well-liked members. Look no further than Cork for proof than that, with Cllr.Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire beating several great candidates to the third seat in Cork South Central, and Cllr. Stephen Cunningham topping the poll on his first outing in the local elections. It’s not just candidates that are young for Sinn Féin: most polls suggest younger voters are more willing to vote Sinn Féin; it could be because for younger voters ‘the Troubles’ is something on the Leaving Cert rather than the news, or because the party just seems fresher than the others.
Speaking of ancient history, as mentioned above, we are finally at the inevitable heat-death of civil war politics. Instead of voting based on what colour shirt your great-granddad had on him that one time in the 20s, voters will soon have to base their votes based on weird things like the issues, the economy & social policies. This weakens Fianna Fáil & Fine Gael so much that people have already made up mock ‘Fianna Gael’ logos, and the only party strong enough to capitalise on this is… Sinn Féin.
We are currently at the foot of the perfect scenario for Sinn Féin to have a majority government in Ireland. Whether this is a good thing, a bad thing or a scary thing has yet to be seen, but give it an election or two and we just may have Taoiseach Mary Lou.