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What are Sinn Fein’s prospects?

I have been criticised by commenters at Left Futureshere and here, for saying that Fine Gail and Labour had effectively colluded in allowing the outgoing Fianna Fail government the opportunity to pass its budget. My critics point out that Labour and Fine Gail both voted against the Finance Bill. However, although they voted against, they did allow the Finance Bill to go through the Dail before the general election as the dying act of the most discredited government in the state’s entire history.

Polls indicate that 95 per cent are dissatisfied with the Government, the highest level ever recorded; just four per cent, slightly above the margin of error, have expressed satisfaction. 82 per cent want the EU-IMF deal renegotiated – which is the foundation of the Finance Act just passed. So their opposition votes were a futile gesture because the government had enough support in parliament to get their austerity budget passed anyway. Instead Fine Gail and Labour could have disputed the propriety of such a significant budget being passed by a bankrupt government with almost no support in the country; and insisted that  a General Election was called first.

The election now has a confusing mix of volatility and predictability. Tom Miller argues that there is a possibility of a Labour led coalition with Fine Gail as the junior partner, or a Fine Gail government with Labour controlling economic policy.

It is very hard to see where Tom gets this from. Fine Gail has a commanding lead in the polls, standing at 33%, despite the personal unpopularity of their leader, Ende Kenny. In contrast Labour has slid from 35% in September to just 21% today, and have actually lost ground with the intervention of the EU/IMF and the collapse of Fianna Fail’s support. There is no prospect that Fine Gail would surrender the running of the economy to Labour in coalition.

There is a further proplem with they way labour has positioned its campiaging. Labour may be technically opposed to the austerity measures of Fianna Fail, but the Labour Party has chosen instead to train its fire on Sinn Fein and the left independents, rather than against the right. While polling suggests that 75 per cent of Labour voters in 2007 say they are sticking with Labour this time, 7 per cent are going to the independents (encouraging for the United Left), 7 per cent to Fine Gael, and 4 per cent to Sinn Fein.

The danger for Labour is participation in a coalition not only with Fine Gail but also with the handful of right wing independents who may be elected, and which the Sunday Independent calls the Profit Before People brigade. If Fine Gail emerge as by far the largest party, the interests of the Labour Party would be better served by staying in opposition, and allowing Fine Gail to form a minority government. But already Labour has indicated that it sees the highest priority as forming a STABLE government, and as neither Fine Gail nor Labour will go into coalition with FF, then a Fine Gail / Labour coalition is inevitable.

While there is an interesting headline battle to see who will be the largest party, and who will form the government, there is a subsidiary but equally vital battle to see who will lead the opposition.

Fianna Fail was on 22 per cent [at the end of 2010]: then came the EU-IMF ‘bailout’. Now Fianna Fail is at 16 per cent, eight points behind Labour.[New FF leader] Micheal Martin has a fight on his hands, therefore, to take ‘the Party’ to about 20 per cent, at which point it may come back with around 30 seats, enough to lead the opposition and to start again — if Labour goes into government, that is.

Fianna Fail has lost support in three chunks, to Fine Gael, Labour and to the independents — left-wing and right-wing — who may be about to emerge as the real story of this election: just 35 per cent of those who voted Fianna Fail in 2007 say they will do so again; but 22 per cent are going for Fine Gael this time, 19 per cent are choosing Labour and a significant 18 per cent are turning their backs on all parties to go independent.

FF’s own private polling is reported to be showing a strong challenge from Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein currently has 5 TDs. However:

The private Fianna Fail survey reveals that Sinn Fein is threatening to take one seat in each of the 11 five-seater constituencies in the General Election, and has plunged FF into a “life-or-death” fight for seats.

A senior Fianna Fail figure revealed that this could decimate the party …

The research reveals that the significant factor behind the swing was the arrival of the IMF/EU into the country. This perceived loss of sovereignty is strongly influencing voting intentions. … some voters see SF as representing their anger at the arrival of the IMF/EU into the country.

Sinn Fein has traditionally been under-represented in the Dail due to not gaining transfers from other parties in Ireland’s STV electoral system. However, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail struggled to get many transfers themselves in the recent Donegal SW by-election, where the transfers went to various shades of Independents and Leftists, some of whom are close to SF.

SF’s Pearse Doherty got 3,178 transfers (starting with 39.9% of the vote) and FF & FG combined got only 2,483 transfers combined (starting with 1st preference votes of 21.3% and 18.7% respectively).

Over the next three weeks of campaigning therefore Sinn Fein have a lot to play for. Fianna Fail just has the edge over SF in the polls currently, but their support may be very unstable, and they may get few second preference transfers. If SF can persuade voters that its economic alternative is politically credible, then they may make a breakthrough to lead the opposition.

One Comment

  1. Mick Hall says:

    I have a piece on SF prospects here.

    Before answering questions from the media, perhaps Gerry Adams should first light his pipe.

    more here, http://bit.ly/efzmmP

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