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.