Election may bring change in south, but not in the way the three main parties had planned

Posted By: February 22, 2020

If the housing crisis continues, Sinn Féin will do well in opposition.
Patrick Murphy. Irish news. Belfast. Saturday, February 22, 2020.
Did you hear there was a revolution in Ireland a fortnight ago? Apparently it was live on television, but you may have missed it if you were watching snooker on the other channel.

It must have been a revolution because senior Sinn Féin figures said, “momentous”, “seismic shift” and “up the Ra”, but they later said the last one didn’t count.

(Well, you can’t have a party hoping to enter government being seen to support an organization calling itself Óglaigh na hÉireann, when the army of the state is also called Óglaigh na hÉireann. I mean, if you ordered “the army” to escort cash-in-transit vans, which one would turn up?)

Of course, what really happened was that three political parties messed up their election campaigns. Fine Gael, with 35 seats, said it had lost. SF took 37 seats and claimed to have won and, with 38 seats, Fianna Fail is still not sure how well it did.

FF messed up by running a Hillary Clinton-style campaign, based on the belief that, since the other guy is so bad, you do not have to do much to win. They were right. The other guy was bad, but the third guy was a woman and she did quite well.

FG’s mistake was hoping to capitalize on its anti-Brexit and anti-British campaigns. Brexit was not an issue and its “Brits Out” message translated into votes for SF. This was helped by the favorable publicity Simon Coveney gained for SF by ensuring that they were back (and beaming) in Stormont just in time for the Dáil election.

SF probably ran the worst campaign. Some claim party policy is determined by the IRA. That’s their business, but if it is true, it shows that the IRA is still viewing politics through the narrow telescope of seeking opportunities for a united Ireland, as in the case of Brexit. If they had put the telescope down they might have seen a broader political picture and nominated more candidates.

So, there will be no social or economic upheaval, which will come as a relief to the Irish, who have a long tradition of preferring futile rebellion to political revolution. However, the election result requires all three major parties to behave differently in the short term. This may produce some slight improvement in social and economic conditions, North and South, but not in a way that any of the three parties planned.

The incoming Dublin government must address Ireland’s soaring inequality. If it achieves some slight progress in that direction, SF’s electoral relevance will be diminished.

But FF and FG (and indeed SF) will avoid the necessary radical steps to implement SF’s housing promises, for example. They require state regulation of the property market, nationalizing land beyond that already owned by the state and creating a nationalized lending institution. In any case, the EU would not allow it. Any existing surplus revenue for funding social housing will be lost through Ireland’s likely €3 billion annual contribution to the EU in Britain’s absence.

However, if the housing crisis continues, Sinn Féin will do well in opposition. But to do so, it now faces an additional challenge. When Leo Varadkar said on RTE that The North has 20,000 homeless, Mary Lou challenged his figures. A week later, SF communities minister Deirdre Hargey said that there were 20,000 homeless in The North and she was going to build 1,800 houses. (A week is a long time in political denial.)

So, SF’s challenge to the political establishment in The South will now have implications for The North, where it is the political establishment. Watch for its new caring image in The North.

Meanwhile, the great Irish revolution is on hold, which means you will not miss much if you continue watching the snooker. However, if you want to know what is happening in politics, it appears that SF risks having some of its policies partially implemented by other parties, while it receives none of the credit in opposition.

Think of them as being snookered by their own promises – just behind the green.