Stunning Sinn Féin Win Upends Ireland Politics

Yves here. Some brief notes. A key takeaway is that the Sinn Féin success upends a commonly-held view among political scientists: that poor economic times and widening inequality lead to political shifts to the right. Ireland took a huge bath after the crisis due to having its monster private sector housing debt bubble dumped on the government (there is a very long shaggy dog story as to why this was a choice as opposed to a necessity, with a turncoat central banker and US pressure playing significant roles. We did cover this in real time back in the day). One post-crisis factor that kept Irish unemployment lower than it would otherwise have been was meaningful numbers of young people left the country to find jobs.

Sinn Féin is solidly left-wing so this win is a welcome development. And if Sinn Féin is part of a coalition government, with current Prime Minister Leo Varadkar reaffirming that he won’t lead a coalition with Sinn Féin in it, Simon Coveney, the current Foreign Minister, is a top candidate to assume the helm. Coveney is widely seen as very smart and tough-minded, and would prove far more difficult for the UK to maneuver around than Varadkar.

Comparisons to America are always a bit facile, but this seems like an upset as big as AOC beating Joe Crowley, the fourth most powerful member of the House, but with much more at stake on this political gameboard.

Quick recap from the top of the Irish Times account:

Sinn Féin candidates stormed to a series of spectacular victories in general election counts last night, reshaping Ireland’s political landscape as party leaders begin to turn their attention to how the next government might be formed.

Though many seats remain to be filled and counts will continue this morning, a hung Dáil, which will be dominated by three big parties – Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – is inevitable.

Sinn Féin candidates all over the country won huge victories, with many elected on the first count with huge surpluses, catapulting the party into the front rank of Irish politics and making it a contender for government. Fine Gael seems certain to suffer losses, while Fianna Fáil looks set to be the largest party in the new Dáil, analysts were projecting last night.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reiterated he would not form a government with Sinn Féin, but indicated a coalition with Fianna Fáil could be possible, saying “we are willing to talk to other parties about the possibility of forming a new government, one that would lead the country forward for the next five years”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, while hailing her party’s successes around the country, took steps to contact other left-wing parties to arrange talks on government formation. Speaking at Dublin’s RDS, she said she wants to explore whether such a new government would be possible.

Further observations from PlutoniumKun:

Yes, spectacular and completely unexpected day for Sinn Féin. Especially considering they had a terrible Euro and local election just 8 months ago. An enormous shock to the political system in what was supposed to be a boring ‘which centre right party will win’ election.

Varadkar screwed up by not going in November when there was a window that he could bask in the glow of his Brexit work. A few cold and wet January weeks makes all the difference to the countries mood. Varadkar was always vulnerable – he may be the darling of the international and Dublin media, but regular Irish people, especially in rural areas, never warmed to him. Nothing to do with being gay/Indian, he lacks the human touch, even one of his own party members called him ‘autistic’, and she wasn’t joking. Coveney is much more popular with regular voters. FG lost touch when they elected him leader (he was voted in by elected members, regular party members voted for Coveney, who is much more popular outside of media circles).

Exit polls show Sinn Féin’s vote was almost entirely under 35’s. Like Brexit, there is a complete generational split. The over 60’s all vote Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and Labour, the under 40’s all SF and Green and ‘anyone else’. The core issue is housing, the younger generation getting cut out of home ownership. Fine Gael will be cursing the Irish Central Bank for doing their job and clamping down on excess credit, this has made housing unaffordable for anyone without equity. A key reason for a lack of housing is a huge surge in immigration, but oddly this never came up as an issue, there are no anti-immigration parties apart from some minor fringe groups who all lost deposits.

Other winners: The Greens did reasonably well and may hit 10 seats, and will be probably be invited into government as a moderating influence on Sinn Féin. So did the Social Democrats – a middling-left anti-austerity party of ex-Labour party members (probably 4 or 5 seats).

Greens and SD’s will negotiate together, probably with Fianna Fáil (who will be very disappointed with their numbers, especially in the cities) and Sinn Féin to form a centre-left alliance which would have a comfortable majority. However, I think Fianna Fáil’s leader (who genuinely hates Sinn Féin) would rather do a deal with Fine Gael, but that looks unlikely – lots of Fianna Fáil grassroots supporters see Sinn Féin as natural allies, not Fine Gael.

Fianna Fáil has been trying very hard to portray themselves as a moderate centrist party, but they are in reality the party of older rural conservatives and nationalists – their ‘urban’ wing (which includes their leader) has been severely weakened.

Other losers – the fragmented irish hard left will likely lose seats, also lots of Independents lost out to Sinn Féin. The Irish Labour party is drifting to irrelevance.

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65 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    Yup, a pretty amazing election, especially as it was expected to be quite boring. The economy is doing very well so the establishment never saw this coming. It does seem to be an accumulation of issues that hit a boiling point – people said ‘enough is enough’ (curiously, this never happened in the aftermath of the economic crash).

    Reply
    1. AstoriaBlowin

      Kind of amazing you would say the key reason for the housing crisis is immigration instead of next to no housing being built in central Dublin. Dublin is what the least dense capital city in the EU. In the ring formed by the North Circular and South Circular roads there’s block after block of two story row houses, if central Dublin looked like most cities on the continent you’d have tens of thousands of extra housing units in close proximity to jobs. I don’t see what immigration has to do with decades of under building

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        Density is irrelevant, its the total number of homes/rooms available that’s important. Those 2 storey dwellings are actually surprisingly high density – around 30-50 per hectare, equivalent per hectare to many apartment developments, so there would be little net increase in density if you demolished them in favour of apartments, which you seem to be suggesting is an answer, at least not unless you built very high and ignore modern standards. There is actually little shortage of building land within and around Dublin and most is now developed at a level of 50 units per hectare or greater which is in line with most European standards.

        At the moment the Irish construction industry is at maximum capacity, its building around 20,000 units per year nationally. Net population annual increase averages around 65,000 for the last two years, more or less split between natural increase and immigration. As immigrants are primarily young couples or single people, their impact on the housing supply is obvious – the amount of housing that would be needed to keep up is pretty much double current output, and it will take time to build up this capacity in the industry. I’m not stating this as an anti-immigrant comment – its the nature of the Irish economy to have major swings for in and out- migration. The core problem is that capacity in the building industry was wiped out during the austerity years ensuring an inability to catch up with demand, added to the fact that in the boom years too many houses were built in the wrong locations.

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        1. AstoriaBlowin

          How can density not be relevant? Density is a measure of how many people are living in a square kilometer and thus is a proxy for the number of housing units available to house them in that square kilometer. Dublin is extremely low density, 3,000 per square kilometer on average. Even the highest density area, Arran Quay, is only half the density of Barcelona for example. And that density in Barcelona is achieved with very little high rise building in the Eixample.

          You can’t be serious in saying streets like Daniel Place and its surroundings with its one story working man’s cottages are high density. All of those blocks of single story houses and a lot of the two story houses should have been and still should be replaced with apartment blocks of 3-6 floors instead of any new construction of housing estates.

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          1. PlutoniumKun

            Try measuring up those places, you can do it on any mapping app (or just go to the census stats), and you’ll be surprised at how those areas compare for density. The terraces around Church Street have a density that matches pretty much any European city – on a small scale of course. Lots of high rise cities waste a vast amount of space on boulevards and so on. But Dublin as a whole of course has a distressingly low density, but that’s mostly due to suburban sprawl, not the structure of the inner city.

            Anyway, Hong Kong has super high density, and an intense shortage of homes. Plenty of low density cities have no shortages. Housing shortages are primarily about land use and relative growth rates, not to mention other cost issues – its complicated. London has massively densified, while exacerbating its housing problem (because of rich people hoarding mostly). In Dublin its a simple matter of the population outgrowing the housing stock, it really is that simple.

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          2. George Phillies

            30-50 homes per hectare? The thought of fitting three or five homes on my lot is, to my mind, a bit surprising. Undoubtedly, if you replace those homes with tall rabbit hutches you can cram more people in, assuming you have no regard for quality of life, but I do not see why people would want to live like that if they had a choice.

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            1. PlutoniumKun

              That is standard density for suburbs in the Netherlands, Denmark, pretty much any historic city from Berlin to Barcelona – and far higher in inner areas. Tight densities means schools, shops and other services all within a short walk, it makes high capacity public transport much more viable and private cars unnecessary. Its what cities are about.

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      2. FKorning

        ‘if central Dublin looked like most cities on the continent’…

        It’s not. it has a population of 1.3 million, not 13 million. There’s no reason to lie the blame at underuse of space… that’s not the problem. There are plenty of derelict spaces, vacant homes, within a reasonable distance. The problem is the Dickernsian, ie British, property laws or lack thereof. The state needs to force the banks to eat their paper and underwrite affordable mortgages for the youth, those very predatory banks who were rescued by the taxpayer at the point of a gun. It needs more subsidised housing and lease-to buy schemes from the councils. It needs more rent-control appartments to deflate the extortionate rent rates. It needs to abolish ground rents and 99 year leaseholds. It needs to prosecute corrupt developers and councillors who approved building tasteless mcmansions in the middle of ballygonowhere while circumventing their responsibility to build rolling stock of entry-level housing within the city.

        Reply
        1. AstoriaBlowin

          You can do all of those things, I don’t know all of the implications of such policies, but they could for sure be helpful. But nothing beats building more housing supply for driving down the cost. Also, Irish people have absurd commuting times because of sprawl and lack of housing supply within Dublin city. No people in Europe drive more than Irish do, that has huge costs in terms of infrastructure provision, health, even just all the money that leaves the country to pay for the petrol used.

          If SF or anyone else is serious about addressing the housing crisis, then Dublin and for that matter, every sizable town in Ireland needs higher housing density and newer/better housing stock within the towns themselves. Not sprawling housing estates on the peripheries.

          Reply
  2. David

    Interesting to see the British media trying to wrap its brain around this. For the most part it’s described SF as “left wing”, and FF and FG as “centrist”, which of course invites the obvious question of where the “right” is, since you can only be in the centre by reference to two opposite poles. (Interestingly, the French media have called the two traditional parties “centre-right”.)This “centrist” stuff is getting a bit out of hand, frankly. But it prompts a couple of questions for PK and others.
    In what sense can SF be described as a party of the “Left”, either absolutely or relatively? Back in the 70s, at the height of the Troubles, it was often argued that the SF/PIRA nexus, in spite of its leftist vocabulary, was actually a deeply reactionary, backward-looking nationalist movement out of the early 20th century, banjo in one hand and rifle in the other. Are we looking at an actual evolution of SF, or were they always like this?
    If SF is genuinely both leftist and nationalist, this is an enormously significant development. Nationalism (in the sense of community solidarity, and a government generally representing the people) began as a leftist idea, and left-wing nationalism has a long history (Orwell, for example). In France, parties of the Left (even the Communists) were as historically nationalist as anyone: it was from the Right that most of the collaborators came. But since the end of the Cold War, the Left has completely given up the terrain of nation, community, and solidarity to the Right, with the consequences we are now seeing.
    This helps to answer Yves’s question about economic hardship provoking a move to the Right. It hasn’t always been the case historically – in the 1930s the extreme left, especially the Communists, attracted a great deal of support from the urban working class. In the end it’s a question of what’s available, and who speaks your language and understands your problems. As I say, the Left has pretty much given up doing this, and so voters in search of “none of the above” have turned to the Right. It’ll be interesting to see if the result in Ireland is the beginning of a new trend.

    Reply
    1. Ignacio

      There is also ‘left wing nationalism’ in Catalonia and it is now polling at about 37% of the electorate and would be the winner in elections today. In Spain the current coalition could be considered left or center-left, another example that breaks the rule. These parties make converge two political trends: populist nationalism and despair for financialization.

      Reply
      1. Clive

        This (plus David’s original comment) is a significant political question.

        Is Italy’s Salvini pro-labour or anti-labour in having a migration-curbing policy? Is the UK’s Johnson’s “f— business” a left-wing or right-wing approach to the economy? Is America’s Trump’s trade tariff posturing an enabler of corporatism or a reaction against it?

        The old left-right labels simply don’t work any more. Just to throw a few UK-specific examples around, the Liberal Democrats “tough borrowing rules” isn’t especially liberal and the free childcare isn’t especially democratic because you can choose whether to have children or not, but you can’t choose whether you get old or not so why allocate resources to parents with children (who have quite a lot of options as to how to look after their children) but not the elderly who have to take what’s available. The Labour Party’s free broadband may help the least well off but it is a middle-class perk because you’ll use far more data if you’re running expensive (and bandwidth-hungry) Netflix and Amazon subscriptions compared to if you’re only looking online to try to find a job or save money shopping around for foodstuffs, pricing utilities, having to use online services because your local bank and post office have closed etc.

        Nationalism, populism, progressive, left, right, centrism — these words don’t now really tell you anything.

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        1. Basil Pesto

          I’m inclined to agree with your analysis, and I continue to be sceptical of the analytical/intellectual value of these words

          they are, however, useful for demarcating your enemies (and allies, I suppose)

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        2. Susan the other

          This spoken nonsense has been creeping up on us since the 70s. The positions it evokes go back all the way to the 1800s and class wars created by the industrial revolution. But here we are in a rapidly deindustrializing world. We are giving political “rights” to rivers these days. My favorite political act in a very long time – but not that it is even enforceable. How should we name our political positions when civilization is having an existential crisis?

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        3. Darius

          I propose a scale of solidarity vs. reaction. It’s a fairly simple proposition to judge whether a politician is promoting solidarity or falling back on reaction. I would have to know more about Salvini’s position to make a judgment about it.

          It’s significant that Irish voters have no use for anti immigration politics. The memory of “No Irish Need Apply” must be too fresh still. It’s like solidarity is a national religion.

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          1. Clive

            It doesn’t seem you have to look too hard to find a certain amount of anti-migration sentiment e.g. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/how-the-far-right-is-exploiting-immigration-concerns-in-oughterard-1.4026612

            Which doesn’t, of course, mean that people are willing to vote specifically for a narrow immigration platform-holding party https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/election-2020-anti-immigration-candidates-fail-to-win-seats-jcb3f8prs

            And it is a hugely complex subject with variations on attitudes apparent by age, whether one is an immigrant or not, where one lives (urban or rural) and how one experiences the economy as it works — or not — for you https://www.esri.ie/system/files/media/file-uploads/2018-03/BKMNEXT350.pdf

            So every time I read broad-brush sweeping statements on how this- or that- country is pro- or anti- migration, I suspect there are many narratives are at work rather than “it’s all like this” or “it’s all like that” answers.

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      1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

        That would be my experience of most of them at the top end that I have met, there are 2 I know who do a lot of Union work both in the North & South & here in the North they have in the past successfully blocked various austerity measures coming from Westminster, or as in the case of the bedroom tax put a fund of £6 million on one side to cover for those who would be caught out in a country that has a very small provision of single person dwellings – this ends in May & hopefully will be re-instated. It is also true that when Stormont was dormant there was a mad rush to get Universal credit installed, likely because there would be no opposition to it.

        From my experience & that of my cousin who gets about much more than I & is involved in community work in South Armagh, many hardcore Republicans broke away from SF a few years back due to not agreeing with Police reforms. They are relatively small groups of old men largely isolated from each other who do not really participate politically with the extreme being the dissidents who are usually a cover for criminal activity.

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    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said, David.

      It was odd to watch coverage from the UK and France over the week-end. One would have expected better of the UK media, but perhaps not. The forthcoming anniversary of partition and independence and how this may influence Brexit and the union was never mentioned.

      Further to the combination of a welfare state and nationalism, further afield, Castro’s movement and the South African National Party embodied that. One could argue that the National Party was to left of the ANC on the economy, especially industrialisation and self reliance, and its economic policy would have been better for a democratic South Africa rather than an ANC impressed by Blair and Clinton in the 1990s.

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      1. David

        Yes, SA is another example of how simple distinctions of “left” and “right” are valid enough in the abstract, but don’t necessarily map easily to real situations. The old Nationalist Party of apartheid fame was notionally of the “right” but had a solid base not only in the rural areas, but among working-class Afrikaners, for whom it provided jobs. It was closely linked to the Church (the NGK anyway) and to various cultural and language movements. But it had a highly statist and interventionist economic policy, and an effective jobs guarantee, at least for whites. By contrast, the old United Party (and the bits into which it disintegrated in the 80s) was the party of the English-speaking private sector, in many ways more “right wing” on social and economic issues than the NP, but with a reputation for moderation because it opposed apartheid, not on moral but on economic grounds. The Left scarcely existed, and most of it was clustered around the Communist party, which in most other countries would have been a social democratic party. (As a friend of mine (and SACP member) commented in the last days of apartheid, “most of the CP think that Gramsci is the latest big thing.”)
        The ANC is a curious case. Its main impulse was moral rather than political or economic, and its economic ideas were partly influenced by the relationship with the SACP and Moscow, and partly by the prevailing ideas of the time (nationalisation, economic planning etc). In many ways it was unfortunate that the transfer of power happened when it did, at a time when liberal economic ideas were back in vogue. Ironically, the biggest casualties of the ANC’s liberal turn were probably working-class Afrikaners, often with little education and poor command of English.

        Reply
        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, David.

          I first visited SA in mid-1992. Dad managed UK government projects in Lesotho and Swaziland. It was interesting to see how little English was spoken in rural Free State and Transvaal and the lingering divide between Afrikaners and “English”.

          Smuts, as it was then, airport seemed to be a job creation scheme for the Afrikaners you refer to.

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          1. David

            Indeed, the whole Afrikaner nationalist movement from the 1920s began with the attempt to reinstate Afrikaans (the language of the majority of the whites) as the official language of the country. As I always tell people, the first victims of apartheid were the English speakers who had then dominated the country for several generations. They were purged from the government and the security forces in the 1950s, and the language of administration and law became de facto established as Afrikaans, even if in theory both were used. You still meet middle-aged Afrikaners, well educated and in positions of responsibility, who have problems with English. So it’s about a lot more than “left” and “right”….

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            1. Synoia

              The National Party, the Afrikaans, was divided into the Verlicht and Verkrampt (I’m not positive that’s spelt correctly) factions.

              Verlicht were more progressive, and Verkrampt more conservative.

              In the seventies, when I was there, The Afrikaans still resented the Boer War, which they called “The South African War” in such a manner as one almost reflexively add “of Independence.”

              It was a typical Government of the pre nre-liberal era, focused on local production of as many goods as possible in the country.

              Reply
              1. David

                There’s a famous and apparently true story that when De Klerk visited London after the release of Mandela and was invited to dine with the Queen, he startled everybody by delivering an impassioned speech about the War and the deaths of perhaps 20,000 civilians in the British camps. Most of the British people present were only vaguely aware of the War, and hardly anybody knew what he was talking about. But the episode was for a long time, and perhaps still is, the basis for the Afrikaner sense of victimhood, and united verligte and verkrampte, for all that the former were prepared to see a bit of flexibility in apartheid. The point is that if you dig a little the history of any country contains complexities like this, most of them negative and some of them bloody, that go far beyond issues of “right” and “left” . I’m fond of quoting Joyce’s Stephen Daedalus (to come back to the country in question): “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

                Reply
                1. Colonel Smithers

                  Thank you, Gentlemen.

                  The verligte / enlightened wing of the Nationalists and even the Broederbond / Brotherhood included economic left wingers like Sampie Terblanche and relatives of FW de Klerk.

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    3. PlutoniumKun

      Its hard to put Sinn Fein in a neat ‘left/right’ axis as their history is, shall we say, complex. Sinn Fein (the Provo’s) started out in the late 1960’s as a split from the main Republican movement which had been entirely infiltrated and taken over by Trots who saw it as a working class movement to power (and of course failed). As time went on, they became more orthodox left wing thanks to their prisoners, who educated themselves doing time (but they were never left enough for orthodox left thinkers, who formed a succession of left wing Republican splinter groups, pretty much all now defunct). The joke used to be that when a Republican prisoner left Long Kesh (the main high security jail), they left behind Irish language textbooks and books on Marxist analysis, while Loyalists left behind their kettleballs and steroids.

      When they decided on a politics only route in the 1990’s, they tried to reorientate themselves as a center-left force – isolating both their far left fringes and their more conservative nationalist supporters. Over time, in an attempt to woo Southerners, they became more softly-softly IdPol left (which is exemplified by their leader, Mary Lou McDonald). The final straw for the old Conservative wing of the party was the support for reproductive rights, leading to the formation of a socially conservative splinter party, Aontas.

      It is further complicated by the reality that it is very much a working class left wing party with zero support from Trade Unions (most of which support Labour), and little to no middle class academic lefty types (who vary between Labour and the far left groups). So you have a party which is very much focused on ‘fixing things’ socialism rather than high falutin’ theories. There is also a strong tradition of left localism and self help – which in international terms I would say aligns them with anarchism and South American traditions of liberation theology. Their electoral base is not the traditional working class (which was never big in Ireland as Ireland never had a major industrial base), but low to middle income in suburban fringes, small towns and rural areas. They would therefore be a type of party more familiar to countries where the left overlaps with local/national liberation movements than traditional European/north American leftist movements.

      Traditionally, they were isolationist and focused on self-sufficiency, but they’ve recognised this is not viable in the modern world. They have become mildly sceptical pro-Europeans and are aligned with the Nordic Greens in the EU Parliament.

      Only time will tell if this is a strength or a weakness – many believe that the lack of any firm left ideology means they will quickly re-orientate themselves as a soft left mainstream party like FF. Others quite like their pragmatism and refusal to nail their colours to any particular left ideological set of theories.

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      1. Clive

        An interesting — subject to the usual massive health warnings about crapification of polling and public opinion surveying — take on how here as elsewhere why and how people voted doesn’t always map neatly on what they voted for:

        These are quite bizarre results. More SF than FG voters want tax cuts and fewer want money spent on public services. Fewer SF voters than any other party want money spent on public services. Have they read the manifesto?

        https://twitter.com/cooper_m/status/1226873114992267264?s=21

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      2. hemeantwell

        There is also a strong tradition of left localism and self help –

        PK, does that derive from local self-defense organizations established during the Troubles?

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        1. PlutoniumKun

          I think it goes well back to the early days of Republicanism – even the name (usually translated as ‘ourselves alone’ reflects that). There has always been a strong element of isolation and self-reliance in the Republican tradition – the problem is that it was tried in the 1930’s and the 1950’s and it didn’t work very well (not implemented by socialists obviously). I knew a few SF’ers quite well in the 1980’s (including one who got elected today) and they were all keen (as I was back then) on a variety of economic thinkers who were very much interested in localist politics and co-operatives as the basis for a socialist economy – essentially the anarchist tradition.

          Reply
  3. Pavel

    As someone who has never followed Irish politics too closely, thank you both Yves and PK for this very useful background and analysis. I do know enough to be glad if Varadkar is departing… another in a long line of neoliberal media favourites who seem oblivious (or simply uncaring) about real problems people face. (Macron here in France is another example, of course, though perhaps even more extreme.)

    And an occasional thanks again to all who make NC one of the best political/financial sites on the web.

    Reply
  4. The Rev Kev

    As a novice here with Irish politics, a question or two. How will this play out with the Brexit negotiations with the UK? And will this change the relationship between Ireland and Northern Ireland? I cannot see the later being happy to see Sinn Féin get a bigger say in Irish politics.

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    1. PlutoniumKun

      Until we know the make up of the government, its impossible to say what it means for Brexit, except that almost any possible variation is likely to take a very hard line on any compromise with a Tory led UK Government. If Sinn Fein are in government, they will pay a very close attention to border communities and will be pushing for a border poll if they think the time is right (they probably don’t think the time is right… yet).

      SF would also be enthusiastic supporters of helping the SNP to negotiate with the EU for a quick entry if they go for independence.

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      1. The Rev Kev

        Thanks for that PK. I guess a lot depends on the eventual configuration of the government which I hope does not take too long. Looks like Ireland will bear watching this year. I find it ironic that a century ago that most of Ireland was finally able to tear themselves away from the grip that the UK had on it and now a century later the UK is encountering a similar fight getting away from the EU. The difference is though, that Ireland was seized by the England and had no choice in the matter but the UK went voluntarily into Europe.

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    2. Clive

      As for the North, worth keeping in mind that, in collapsing the Assembly, nationalists learned the hard way that people in NI value their institutions (however imperfect they may be) and will extract a heavy political price for holding them hostage to party flag waving. The same is true for loyalists who overextended themselves in a willingness to throw border communities under a bus — moderate unionists realise this harms rather than helps the cause.

      And the settlement in the North is defined by the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. This isn’t up for negotiation (or renegotiation). A lot of political actors talk about the primacy of the GFA. But then make policy statements and deploy tactics for specific issues which drive a coach and horses through it. Eventually, these founder because little fundamental change is possible within the confines of the GFA and there’s not much political appetite to radically reshape it. And within the province, just getting the GFA to function, reliably, as currently written, would be a nice thing.

      There’s always talk, much of which is from urbanised liberal-ish chattering classes in London and Belfast (not sure about Dublin, but I suspect it mirrors these), about that old chestnut, the Border Poll. Well, anyone can talk about anything they like. But sooner or later, some practicalities have to be grasped. NI relies to a huge extent on fiscal transfers from the UK to the six counties. The close-on £5,000 (call it €6,000 or around US$6,300) per person is easily absorb-able in a UK population of 66 million. Much less so if it had to be paid for from the Republic’s 5 million.

      And within the workforce c. 25% is direct public sector employment (vs. 15% for the UK) so that fiscal transfer supports a lot of employment. Even if the fiscal transfer was to be replicated by the Republic, a fair proportion of those public sector jobs serve the UK public sector and would likely be surplus to requirements in any reunification. And 49% of NI’s exports go to GB, with the remaining 50% split between the RotW (21%) and the Republic (19%) and the EU (11%). Losing friction-less access to the UK market would not be made up for by the potential increase in sales to the EU. I won’t even get started on currency conversion issues. So a Border Poll is the easy bit. Working out how to reintegrate the economy of the North with that of the South, not so much.

      Even in the Republic, there’s no shortage of comments about how suddenly getting NI wouldn’t exactly be like winning the lottery. Similar to the weather, everyone talks about Border Polls but no-one ever does anything about it.

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    3. FKorning

      The polled voting intentions clearly indicate brexit accounted for only 1% of the Sinn Fein sweep to the progressive left. Healthcare accounted for a whopping 40% and Housing for a 20% of the motivations.

      Ireland has been in a perpetual housing bubble due to centuries of hot British money skewing property and land prices, the profligate orgy of overexpansion of the celtic tiger, and the subsequent failure to redress the problems post finanical-crisis, including failure to address corruption, regressive measures like rescuing the delinquent bad banks, and instead socialising the costs to the public via austerity.

      Ireland is a bit behind and reactionary on health are, as it has yet to have an NHS-like universal system; the chief reason for this being that it would have led to a debate on abortion, a hornet’s nest which politicians avoided like the plague prior to Varadkar’s reforms. With the A-word now dealt with, the debate on universal health can be addressed.

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    1. PlutoniumKun

      Their spokesman on Housing is well known as something of an expert on the intricacies of housing policies, and probably played a major role in their election as he pretty much humiliated opponents in every debate on the subject. Whether he would actually be able to implement his ideas is another matter. The reality is that the Irish construction industry is at its limits – even if billions were thrown at housing, its unlikely much could be done in the short to medium term.

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  5. Donn

    “Exit polls show Sinn Féin’s vote was almost entirely under 35’s. Like Brexit, there is a complete generational split. The over 60’s all vote Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and Labour, the under 40’s all SF and Green and ‘anyone else’.”

    Though my wife and I are in our mid-40s, I can personally attest to this. Due to once-off and very, very fortunate personal circumstances, we were just about able to claw our way out of negative equity and into a larger home on the outskirts of the city. An awful lot of families aren’t so lucky. Our old home was in Mary Lou McDonald’s constituency, just a few minutes from O’Connell Street. Drug dealing up our street, privatised waste services leading to massive dumping/littering, drug ravaged communities abandoned, kids with no prospects, gang murders, armed police. The political response? Utter contempt and complete neglect on the part of all the main parties, who were only pushed to act after a massive increase in lawless gang activity in the area. Labour was always rubbish and a complete no show in what should have been its heartland. FF and FG never even turned up to knock on doors the entire eight years we lived there. And I’m not saying I don’t welcome the increase in the Greens vote share, but there’s something to the whole ‘the Greens are FG on bikes‘. We voted SF and transferred left.

    My older and higher up work colleagues are absolutely horrified (needless to say, I’ve had to keep my voting preferences to myself). The younger/lower down ones aren’t saying much. My parents called over to see our kids yesterday and were positively funereal. And yet even my father, who has voted FG since he moved to the Republic in his twenties, said he couldn’t give them his first preference this time. He gave it to the Greens.

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    1. Carla

      Donn, thank you so much for chiming in here. It’s incredibly helpful to have on-the-ground commentary from people like you, who are actually living the situation. This American is grateful for your insights.

      I know it’s a far leap, but may we take some hope for Bernie from this Irish election? Wish us luck!

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      1. shtove

        The only person in Ireland I’ve maintained contact with is my aunt, who’s in her mid ’60s. She and her husband voted SF for the first time. Health, housing. And perhaps – this is a tricky one – a bit of catholic social teaching on the liberation side? It’s always puzzled me the church hung on to its flock in rural areas, but maybe Francis has brought some hope to his fleecèd ones.

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    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Kev.

      Simo is just echoing what the rest of his well fed and well remunerated peers think. Simo and his former colleague John Humphries spent years on the taxpayer payroll and have rural hideaways to match their exorbitant and scandalous salaries. Many are desperately hoping for Keir Starmer to win the Labour leadership and begin the long haul to restore the natural order of things.

      I was near that deracinated elite’s Oxfordshire / Cotswolds outpost, an exclusive members’ only country club, on Saturday. One can see why they are so detached and fear so much.

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        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, John.

          Like so many pundits, he has never paid the price for being wrong and made much money doing so.

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  6. FKorning

    Imho This election proves the case for Proportional Representation, which is often decried as terribly skewed to the centre and prone to deadlock. Despite Arrow’s impossiblity theorem, Single-Transferable-Vote in this case has managed to produce an outcome which accurately mirrors in a a majority of districts the legitimate tectonic shift in demographics and voter intentions that is sweeping across the nation. I should expect more coutries will start to look at PR-STV now as opposed to Party-List (PR-PL) or the anachronism that is FPTP.

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      1. ChrisAtRU

        … I’m assuming this (offensive, bigotry) is a joke. On the odd chance it isn’t, the “coin flip” reference is about the Democrat party Iowa caucuses in the US.

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      2. Edward

        I was trying to suggest that if the Irish had used the Iowa Caucus coin flip method, Sinn Fein would not have acquired enough votes to win.

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  7. Anon

    If ever there were a vivid example of the nuance of politics in the “United Kingdom” it would appear here in the NC commentariat. My head is spinning.

    Reply
  8. TheCatSaid

    Possibly playing a part in the election results–this was the first time in 30 yrs or more that the election was held on a Saturday (instead of mid-week). This may have made it easier for some younger voters to participate; many college students return home on weekends, for example. It might have also helped more lower-waged, single parents, etc. to vote.

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  9. TheCatSaid

    There is much discussion as to whether SF is likely to be serious or not about forming a long-lasting coalition government, as if they call a snap election they will run more candidates and likely add to their numbers in parliament and possibly end up with both the most TDs as well as the largest share of the first preference vote.

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  10. Matthew G. Saroff

    I’m wondering if Sinn Fein’s success might be due to Gerry Adams’ leaving the leadership.

    Adams was ineluctably tied to, “The Troubles,” and his ties to the provisional IRA would concern potential voters who would not want the conflict to restart.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniuKun

      That certainly helped. Adams is enormously popular among Republicans but generally had too much ‘baggage’ for most Southerners. Mary Lou was handpicked years ago (she was poached from FF) as an attractive future leader who didn’t have the old IRA connections. Its been a deliberate strategy for at least 20 years for SF to recruit political candidates like her – basically, well spoken, preferably female Southerners. But Adams is still her mentor and a very powerful voice behind the scenes. Quietly, this will be seen as a triumph for him.

      Reply
  11. PlutoniumKun

    Just as a roundup to this tread, the final figures are quiet remarkable, pretty much a dead heat. Bear in mind that 80 seats are needed for a majority:

    FG (Varadkars party). 35
    FF 38
    Sinn Fein 37
    Greens 12
    SD (an anti-austerity splinter from Labour) 6
    Labour 6
    PPP (far left) 5
    Others (mostly single issue independents) 21

    A quick summary: A huge success for SF, Greens and (quietly, everyone forgot about them), SD. A disappointment, but not a crushing one for FF (although for reasons too long and complicated to go into, a deeper dive into the figures shows very bad news for them). A ‘could be worse’ election for FG (they carefully managed expectations downwards). ‘Bad, but not entirely catastrophic’ for Labour. ‘Oh shit’ for the far left (SF scavenged most of their votes, they were lucky to get 5). A generally bad day for the independents and micro parties.

    The Greens and SD say they’ll negotiate as a block – Labour will probably have no choice but to join them. The Greens will obviously lead this block. Greens and SD’s benefit from having a core of very talented politicians.

    A quick look at the maths will show that 2 of the big 3 parties along with the Greens/SD are the only possible government.

    But the final results creates a huge problem – without one of the three parties being a clear winner, none will concede on the issue of who will be Prime Minister. None will accept being the ‘junior’ member of a coalition, as that is traditionally electoral poison (you get blamed for everything the government does, while the senior partner gets all the high profile media).

    The previous government worked on a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement – essentially the opposition (FF) agreed not to take the government down unless it was a point of principle. For reasons too long to go into, FF had no option but to do this, but its now seen internally as a mistake – so neither FF nor FG, and certainly not SF, will not agree to supporting a minority government on this basis.

    So essentially the only possible stable governments are:

    FF/SF (sharing PM) with Greens/SD (maybe a Green PM?)
    FG/FF with Greens/SD. Looks impossible, as neither FG nor FF could compromise on the PM post.

    So this essentially makes forming a government look nearly impossible, unless one of the major parties is willing to make major concessions in return for… well, I don’t know what. Its possible that something imaginative could be done, like a Green PM supported by SF/FF or similar (the leader of the Greens is widely popular among other politicians so this isn’t an outlandish idea).

    But otherwise, this looks like a Belgian style stalemate with no option but another election in 6 months. The politicians will dread this, because Irish electorates traditionally punish politicians who are seen as too keen to make everyone make the trek out to polling stations again. Another election would be a huge lottery for all the main parties, and maybe the minor ones too.

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    1. MIchael Walsh

      I assume Fine Fáil (FF) & Fine Gael (FG) are gaming this out at the moment – but an election in mid-summer is a nailed-on certainty I reckon.

      Demographics saw Sinn Féin (SF) get an unprecedented vote share.

      Mid-summer: students on working holidays (UK, USA, etc); mid-20s dreaming of/heading to foreign shores and young families juggling the summer holidays.

      A FF/FG/Greens coalition, with the FF and FG lads swearing undying love whilst unsheathing their stiletto knives, would seem the most obvious option.

      I can’t see either FF or FG doing a deal with SF – as it would bring them permanently across the legitimacy threshold – if they’ve got plans for another election in 6 months.

      So “no deal” with SF means any combination of FF/SF/Lab/PBP, FG/SF/Greens, etc is a non-runner.

      6 month government to get past the July 1st Brexit extension D-Day, pull it all down in July, go again in August, see if they can wrestle back some SF seats and we’re back to a FF/FG confidence and supply agreement in September to get past the December 31st Brexit cliff edge.

      Reply

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