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Sinn Fein gets green light to form ‘broad left coalition’ gov’t in Ireland (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 468.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the 2020 election surge of Sinn Fein, which has collapsed the decades long, centrist status quo in Ireland.

As disgruntled Irish voters sent a clear message to the ruling center parties, Sinn Fein will now be challenged to form a left government coalition, while managing to deliver on ambitious economic policies that won it much of the vote.

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Via Foreign Policy…

“THE SHINNERS TAKE IT ALL” blared the front page of the Irish Daily Star on Monday, using a slang term for Sinn Fein supporters, as it became clear that a true electoral earthquake had hit Ireland. As exit polls showed Brexit was a nonissue compared to Ireland’s housing and health crises, voters turned on the establishment parties that have been leading them since the foundation of the state a century ago.

With a plurality of votes going to her party, Sinn Fein’s left-wing nationalist leader, Mary Lou McDonald, declared that Ireland is “no longer a two-party system.” It’s hard to argue with her. Every election since the 1922 founding of what is now called the Republic of Ireland  has led to a victory for either of the country’s two large centrist parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Simply put, in the nearly 100 years since the island of Ireland was divided in two, something like this has never happened.

Other records were set, too. In what was meant to be his party’s post-Brexit victory lap, Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar watched as Sinn Fein topped the poll in his multiseat constituency of Dublin West. He eventually won his seat back after the fifth round of counting, but it’s the first time a sitting taoiseach has failed to win the most votes on his own turf.

With Fine Gael receiving their lowest share of votes since 1948, Varadkar will now face pressure to resign as party leader, although no major figures within the party have called for it. Support for Ireland’s two big parties had been trending down over a number of general elections, but their combined vote share of 43 percent on Saturday is the lowest ever.

Is this the end of the Fine Gael-Fianna Fail duopoly?

Even with Saturday’s dramatic result, it’s still too early to write off Fine Gael, which has previously revived its fortunes after suffering electoral setbacks, most recently bouncing back from a trouncing in 2002 to top polls in 2011 following the global financial crisis. Fianna Fail, which, like Fine Gael, was formed in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War and whose political program closely resembles its rival’s, however, is still struggling to regain public trust since that same crisis. In 2011, it won only 17.5 of first preference votes as it lost 51 seats. On Saturday, it managed to earn 22.2 percent of first preference votes but ended with just one more seat than Sinn Fein—a draw in reality given that one seat goes to the parliament’s outgoing speaker uncontested.

It’s not unprecedented for a previously dominant party to disappear from the political scene.

It’s not unprecedented for a previously dominant party to disappear from the political scene.
Canada’s Progressive Conservative Party collapsed in 1993’s federal elections, losing 167 out of 169 seats, and it never recovered. “Fianna Fail’s collapse really started in the financial crisis of 2008, didn’t register until that 2011 election, and essentially has been going on ever since,” said Richard Katz, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies the evolution of large political parties. For Katz, the old loyalties that propped up Ireland’s main parties are dissolving with time. “The old party system, derived from Ireland’s civil war based on what side your father or your grandfather was on, doesn’t work so well when it’s your great-grandfather: You never even met him,” he said.

Does this mean a Sinn Fein-led government?

Despite the history made in Saturday’s results, party support has become so fragmented that it’s still no clean victory for Sinn Fein. Final seat allocations put Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, and Sinn Fein at 35, 38, and 37 seats, respectively. Barring a confidence-and-supply arrangement, in which parties agree to support the government on certain critical votes, it’s now up to the parties to find a way to reach the 80 seats needed to form a majority.

A Sinn Fein-led left coalition seems to be on the table, after confirmed reports of early contact being made between Irish Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin and Sinn Fein’s McDonald, with the two set to meet on Wednesday. Even if the conversation proves fruitful, Sinn Fein will need a lot more than Labour’s six seats.

Indeed, even with the support of Ireland’s other left-wing parties, they would still come up short of a majority. Gaining the support of the sizable independent cohort in the Dail Eireann, the lower house of the Irish legislature, could make the math add up, but that may involve more backroom dealing than Sinn Fein is willing to put up with.

Fianna Fail is traditionally skeptical of Sinn Fein due to the party’s past IRA links, and any decision to enter into government must be approved by the rank and file of both parties.

Another scenario that’s only slightly less complicated would involve an alliance between Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, with a third partner likely needed in the form of the Green Party or independents. Fianna Fail’s leader, Micheal Martin, already swallowed his pride last Sunday and made a U-turn on his campaign promise not to enter a coalition with Sinn Fein. After decades in the political wilderness, Sinn Fein may see the opportunity as too good to pass up.

However, such an outcome would still involve complicated tradeoffs: Although Sinn Fein won more votes, Fianna Fail would hold one more seat. Defining who the junior partner in such a government would lead to some awkward arrangements, including a “rotating taoiseach” where each party leader would take it in turns to lead the government—something that has never happened in Ireland.

There’s also the question of grassroots approval. Fianna Fail is traditionally skeptical of Sinn Fein due to the party’s past IRA links, and any decision to enter into government must be approved by the rank and file of both parties. A Fianna Fail member in Dublin, speaking anonymously in order to discuss internal party decision-making, said that “there would be a strong feeling against [coalition] amongst Fianna Fail’s grassroots” and that despite alignment on many policy issues, there remains a “deep suspicion of Sinn Fein.”

If no Sinn Fein or Fianna Fail-led coalition can be agreed on, a new election would have to be called.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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Jim Neary
Jim Neary
February 14, 2020

Alex/Alexander, Please note, that “Sinn Fein” is not the same party that was established in 1905. The present day Party that call themselves “Sinn Fein” follow the same path as Fianna Fail and renounced their original policies and principles that followed from that party that was established in 1905. The true and only party that can claim it’s allegiance to the original is “Republican Sinn Fein” In departing from Provincial Sinn Fein l in 1986 it declared ( I was there) , “We renew our allegience to the Sovereign Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 and which was endorsed by the… Read more »

February 14, 2020

Sinn Fein label themselves as ‘Left Wing’ but today, this is just a euphemism for Neoliberalism. I hold nothing but sheer contempt for Sinn Fein, as i have seen the destruction this ‘Party’ who were the Political wing of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), inflicted on the region. My area is known by the locals as Bandit Country, as it is close to the Border with Northern Ireland, where criminals are involved in every illicit trade imaginable, especially Diesel Laundering and the illegal drugs trade. Almost all of these Bandits are provisionals and have links to paramilitary organisations, like… Read more »

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