Sinn Fein’s surge is the story of the Republic’s election, so why aren’t we hearing more about it?

Posted By: February 05, 2020

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday,  February 5 , 2020.
There’s a general election in the Republic on Saturday, but you’d hardly know if you didn’t read this paper.

On Monday the front page of The Irish News majored with what people are calling ‘the Sinn Féin surge’ – a boost of seven to eight points for the party in two reputable independent polls.

Naturally you wouldn’t expect papers with Unionist readerships to make much of the election, but we’re entitled to expect more from the BBC which people, even nationalists, pay their license fee to watch. BBCNI TV news all day Monday from 6.30 am, nathin [nothing]. BBC GMU nathin [nothing].

It was later in the day before radio and television caught up with the story.

At 10.30am an extensive piece appeared on the BBC website, but it dealt with the election as a foreign news story. There was an extensive description of the election, the parties and their leaders, all accurate and detailed.

Wait a minute though; the piece told us that Leo Varadkar is taoiseach, Micheál Martin Fianna Fáil leader and Mary Lou McDonald SF leader. What? Who knew? Is it for French viewers, or Bulgarians? Everybody here knows who these people are. Isn’t Mary Lou up at Stormont regularly? Wasn’t she involved in the New Decade- New Approach- talks?

This foreign news story approach simply isn’t good enough. It’s true that the default position of BBCNI is Unionist, but it’s unacceptable to treat Saturday’s election as if it has as little effect on this place [Northern Ireland] as an election in Hungary.

Thousands of people travel in both directions across the invisible border to work every day. They’re interested in the election. Many are voters in the election. Its outcome affects their lives. Sinn Féin is a national party as demonstrated most recently in the Stormont talks. Scores of northern SF members are working in the Republic in the election. Not just Sinn Féin. Claire Hanna MP was canvassing in Ballinteer on Sunday with Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond to demonstrate in typically undisciplined SDLP fashion her well known objection to her party leader’s link up with Fianna Fáil. That’s a story in itself.

The story of this election is SF’s surge in the polls to equal Fianna Fáil and in the poll of polls, sit just one point behind on 22.5 per cent. So much so that Prof. Michael Marsh of TCD, RTÉ’s election guru, points out that SF has actually fewer candidates (forty-two) than the number of seats the polls suggest they could win. What is just as significant is that the polls suggest the combined FF-FG total is less than 44 per cent, the lowest since polling began and well below the 65 per cent they got in 2016. In any case, FF looks likely to come in well below fifty seats this time. Together with the fading FG the two big parties will have less than the 80 seats needed to form a government. None of this may come to pass on Saturday, but is it not worth examining in detail at this stage? Should people not know what to expect?

Any result close to these projections poses serious problems for Micheál Martin because, despite his repeated protestations about SF’s unacceptability for government, his TDs, in the wilderness for a decade, will be demanding seats at the cabinet table. Either he eats his words or he goes [forced out as leader].

BBCNI can send a guy to Atlanta, Georgia to spend days watching Rory McIlroy bottling it again, but when it comes to something which will affect peoples’ lives here they make do with Shane Harrison, perfectly competent though he is, standing freezing at a microphone in front of the Taoiseach’s Office. He routinely has a brief time slot to sum up the significance of it all.

Forming a new government in The South may take two to three months, honestly, but in the end, if the seat numbers fall out anything like the predictions, the only stable government will be Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin with maybe the Greens tacked on. Should the BBC not prepare unionists?