How long can Fianna Fáil conspire with Fine Gael to keep Sinn Féin out of government

Posted By: October 28, 2021

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, October 27, 2021

If a week is a long time in politics what’s eighteen months? A lifetime?

What’re two years? An aeon? It certainly seems to be the case in the Republic.

Two years ago,  in the council and European elections, held on the same day in May 2019, Sinn Féin came a cropper. They lost half their council seats and two of their three seats in Brussels. They polled under 10 percent in local government. On the other hand, Fianna Fáil polled 27 percent with Fine Gael not far behind. It seemed the established pattern in the south of two and a half parties was there to stay.

Until eight months later in the general election in February 2020 when both FF and FG were knocked sideways by a very public rejection, not to say revolt against their governance with a powerful swing to Sinn Féin and other parties of the left.

As a result, SF became the largest party in the Dáil, now with 37 TDs. Since then SF’s support has continued to grow. The latest poll shows the party on 33 percent, well ahead of FG on 25 percent, and FF languishing on a disastrous 12 percent.

Of course, all parties which do badly in opinion polls say, all together now, “the only poll that counts is the one on election day.” Yeah, yada, yada. The truth is every political party watches polls assiduously and also if they can afford it, conduct their own polls. For evidence just look at the immediate 10,000-volt shock the poll last February gave the DUP and the equally powerful effect of the electrodes on Donaldson’s political sensitivities of August’s poll showing the DUP in third place among unionists.

In the Republic, it’s not just one or two polls putting SF well ahead, but a continuous run of similar results. The importance of the most recent poll is that for the first time SF, Labor, and the Social Democrats have gone ahead of the combined support for the three government parties, FF, FG, and Greens. SF tried and failed to form a coalition of the left in 2020; the numbers just weren’t there. No longer: antipathy towards the government is growing. They have conspicuously failed to solve the problems which caused their downfall in 2020: housing and health. In December 2019 Leo Varadkar won a vote of no confidence in his housing minister by just three votes. A month later, rather than face a no-confidence vote in his health minister, Varadkar called an election.

If anything, these crises are now worse than two years ago. Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin has comprehensively dismantled FF housing reform proposals which are patently inadequate to meet the predicament people face. The incompetence of the FF health minister has caused Sláintecare to explode in his face in the last month, proof no progress has been made since 2020.

If SF has been polling consistently high since 2020, equally FF has performed consistently badly. On current figures, FF looks like winning only 17-19 seats and being almost wiped out in Dublin, whereas SF is on track to win over 50 TDs. That raises the crucial questions of whether Fianna Fáil can continue to conspire with Fine Gael to keep Sinn Féin out of government and whether FF is either necessary or desirable as a coalition partner. In these circumstances, it looks as if FF and FG will do anything to cling onto government as long as possible. Hang together or hang separately as they say.

As for SF, it’s worth bearing in mind that Roy Jenkins, who knew a thing or two about elections, warned Tony Blair in 1997 that holding onto a substantial poll lead is like carrying a priceless Ming vase across a highly polished floor.

Strangely, if you ask unionist politicians, they claim to have no interest whatsoever in Mary Lou McDonald’s progress across the polished floor. Of no concern of theirs, they lie.