Underwhelming election results mean Sinn Féin’s day has yet to come - The Irish News view

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail prosper as Sinn Féin’s years of leading the opinion polls withers

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald speaking at the launch of the party’s manifesto for the European election campaign at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios in Dublin
Sinn Féin has had a bad election, but are Mary Lou McDonald and her party colleagues listening to the reasons why? (Brian Lawless/PA)

THAT Taoiseach Simon Harris is cheerily batting away speculation about an early general election while a beleaguered Mary Lou McDonald is facing questions about the future of her leadership underlines just how badly Sinn Féin has stumbled in these elections.

The party has for three years enjoyed a substantial lead in the opinion polls over Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and although its advantage has narrowed of late, Sinn Féin was nonetheless confident of making significant inroads in the local elections.

Instead, it secured only 12% of first preference votes. This might represent a modest rise from its 2019 total, but is disastrously short of expectations. Meanwhile, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were neck and neck, at 23% each.

Whether these results are anything more than a chastening blip for Sinn Féin remains to be seen. Ms McDonald accepted, with some understatement, that “it hasn’t been our day” and that the party would take time to reflect ahead of the general election.

Hubris, born of such prolonged dominance in the opinion polls, or mismanagement, through running too many candidates in some areas and splitting its own vote, are partly to blame for Sinn Féin’s underwhelming performance. There are also suggestions it wasn’t as diligent as rivals at knocking doors. It spent more on social media advertising than the other parties, which a cynic might say simply means Sinn Féin has more money than sense. ‘Likes’ aren’t the same as votes.

Hubris and mismanagement are partly to blame for Sinn Féin’s underwhelming performance. It spent more on social media advertising than the other parties, but ‘likes’ aren’t the same as votes or knocking doors

Another option is that voters simply didn’t like its message. Sinn Féin’s fluid position on the vexed refugee issue has laid it open to accusations of attempting to be all things to all people. Similarly, it has faced criticism from its traditional base for, on the one hand, wining and dining with US President Joe Biden in Washington while, on the other, condemning Israel for waging war in Gaza with US-made and supplied weapons.

Against this it is important to acknowledge that council and European elections are, self-evidently, different from a general election. There is an analysis that the independent candidates who have enjoyed success this time – on issues as varied as defective building blocks in Donegal and immigration – may be neither as successful nor influential in the next Dáil contest.

Sinn Féin – never mind Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil – would be foolish to assume that will be the case. It is clear that immigration in particular will remain a significant, and likely decisive, issue, more so even than the housing crisis on which Sinn Féin has led the way.

As things now stand, whichever party – or parties – is able to offer voters the most compelling prospectus on immigration will form the next government.