Archive for Sinn Fein

Ireland’s New Government

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2020 by telescoper

I remembered this morning that I haven’t posted anything about the news that Ireland has a new Government, so decided to do a quick lunchtime blog on that topic. The election that happened earlier this year left no party with enough seats to form an administration and negotiations to form a coalition were drastically slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week, however, members of the three parties involved in drafting the Programme for Government – Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party – all ratified the proposal. A vote in the Dáil Éireann to formally approve the new Taoiseach was held on Saturday and a new Government formed. Its Ministers have now all been appointed.

Ireland’s new Taoiseach (the equivalent of Prime Minister) is Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil. He replaces Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael who becomes Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister). Under the terms of the coalition agreement they will swap places after two and a half years of the five year term, i.e. at the end of 2022 (assuming the Goverment survives that long).

This isn’t the kind of government that I wanted because it seems to only to offer more of the same short-sighted and socially divisive neoliberal economic policies that have led to disintegrating public services and increasing levels of poverty and homelessness over the last decade. Increasing GDP growth while at the same time worsening social outcomes is not successful government in my view. Tempering my disappointment, though, I do think the coalition represents a step forward in some ways. In my view there is very little difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in terms of policy, which means that there has been little substantive opposition from one when the other has been in power, which has been the way Irish politics has been for decades. Now that similarity in political complexion has been formally recognized and Ireland now has a proper opposition party in the form of a resurgent Sinn Féin led by Mary Lou McDonald. I know better than to try to predict political developments but I can see Sinn Féin rising in popularity in opposition, probably at the expense of Fianna Fáil as the incumbent parties are unlikely to find the immediate future plain sailing. I think Leo Varadkar will be privately happy that Micheál Martin is Taoiseach for what is likely to prove the toughest phase.

Ireland’s electoral system involves a single transferable vote and I know many people who used their ballot to “transfer left”. The Green Party clearly prospered from such transfers during the 2020 election, but now finds itself propping up a Centre-Right coalition. No doubt many who transferred left are dismayed to find that they inadvertently transferred right. What that does for the popularity of the Greens in future remains to be seen. I would comment however that the Greens have been pretty successful in getting their proposals into the Programme for Government and I welcome many of them.

Another thing well worth mentioning is the creation of a new Minister at Cabinet level with responsibility for Higher Education. That was a Fianna Fáil idea but I didn’t see it in the Programme for Government. There is a little bit of confusion* about what the title of this new position is. When it was first announced it was reported as “Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Research” though that seems to have morphed into “Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Science”, which has left colleagues in the arts, humanities and social sciences feeling a bit disgruntled. It’s a pity that there isn’t an English word like the German Wissenschaft to use in such general contexts.

*UPDATE: I am reliably informed (by Twitter) that the correct title is “The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science”.

Whatever its precise name, the announcement of the creation of this new Ministry has received a cautious welcome from across the third-level sector. I also see this as potentially promising but I think I’ll reserve judgement until we see what it proposes to do. Interesting, though it was a Fianna Fáil policy to create this new cabinet position, the person appointed to it, Simon Harris TD, is actually from Fine Gael and was the Health Minister in the previous administration. I think the general opinion is that he did fairly well in that position, though reading his biography I see that he dropped out of university without getting a degree, which hardly inspires confidence in his commitment to higher education.

This isn’t the sort of Government I voted for, but I hope it can steer Ireland safely through the ongoing crisis reasonably safely. I’ll take it over the dismal collection of crooks and charlatans who are in power across the Irish Sea any day.

A Day of Results

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , , on February 10, 2020 by telescoper

The results of Saturday’s election are not all in yet, but it is clear that Sinn Féin have come top of the popular vote, with 24.5% of first preferences. As I write this they have 36 TDs compared to 22 altogether in the last Dáil Éireann. They are unlikely to win more than 2-3 more so won’t be the biggest party in terms of seats, but the chances are they will be part of the next Government.

In my own constituency of Kildare North, Sinn Féin’s Réada Cronin won a seat, dislodging one of the Fianna Fáil incumbents, Frank O’Rourke:

As news came in yesterday evening of the strong showing by Sinn Féin, quite a few old friends from the UK emailed me to ask about my opinion. Some for some reason were under the impression that this result is something to do with Brexit. It simply isn’t. The campaign was totally dominated by domestic issues, especially housing and health, on both of which the existing coalition has clearly failed. The so-called `Irexit’ party (funded and promoted by Nigel Farage stooges) flopped in spectacular, as did sundry other far-right parties who tried to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment.

Others asked whether the success of Sinn Féin makes a United Ireland more likely in the short term. Although I would love to see that outcome achieved by democratic means, I’m not sure that this election result automatically brings it closer. For one thing, the Border Poll that would be needed to achieve unification is not in the gift of the Dublin Government, whatever its complexion. For another. a successful vote for Irish unity would require a majority in favour on both sides of the border. The hard-line unionists in the North would not vote `yes’ under any circumstances so a majority would require a significant number of more moderate or more pragmatic unionists to swing towards unity. That may well happen as the negative effects of Brexit begin to bite on Northern Ireland, but it’s also possible that Sinn Féin’s past association with violence may scare some of them off. We’ll have to wait and see. A lot will depend on what happens in the next few months.

There are also some here in the Republic who regard Sinn Féin as pretty toxic, but I see the fact that it is now a major mainstream political party as a very positive development for Ireland’s democracy. For one thing, they offer a radical alternative to the two `establishment’ centre-right parties that have run Ireland for decades. These parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, came into existence as a result of the Irish Civil War, the latter party splitting from Sinn Féin on the issue of abstentionism. After the Civil War it was not until 1997 that the first Sinn Fein TD actually took a seat in the Dáil. Way back in 1919, however, the First Dail was essentially created by Sinn Féin. It seems to me only right that this party that played such a key role in Irish history should return from the wilderness. In some sense this General Election could mark the end of the beginning of Ireland as an independent nation.

Update: here is a summary of the final results.

In for the Count

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on February 9, 2020 by telescoper

I voted in the 2020 General Election yesterday morning before Storm Cíara arrived in Maynooth, which it did in the early afternoon.I don’t know if the weather or the switch to a Saturday polling day affected the turnout, but it looks to have been about 60% nationally*. One factor in the Dublin area was that a couple of big sporting fixtures took place in the city on Saturday, the Six Nations Rugby between Ireland and Wales at the Aviva Stadium and a Gaelic Football match between Dublin and Monaghan at Croke Park.

Whatever the effect of these things on the overall turnout I’d imagine that a larger fraction of voters turned out earlier in the day than in other elections as few people would want to interrupt their Saturday night pleasures by visiting a polling station!

The worst of Storm Cíara seems to have passed, but it’s still rather windy with the odd heavy rain shower, which is enough to keep me indoors for the count. As the meteorological storm subsides, an electoral storm seems to be brewing – last night’s exit polls the three largest parties tied on about 22% of the vote (with a margin of error around 1.5%).

Taking a look at the preceding opinion polls you will see that outcome is well within the ±3% uncertainty of the last few:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%
  • Sunday Times/Panelbase: FF 23%; SF 21%; FG 19%
  • Business Post/Red C: FF 24%; SF 24%: FG 21%.
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 23%; FG 20%; SF 25%

If this pattern is borne out it will be a bitter disappointment for Fianna Fáil who have had four years in opposition to make inroads but have apparently failed to do so.

The main story however is the remarkable rise of Sinn Féin, which looks likely to shatter the two-party dominance that has held sway in Ireland more or less since its inception as an independent state. Early indications are that they will do very well and return TDs in constituencies where they have never previously won a seat.

My constituency is Kildare North which elected 1 Social democrat, 1 Fine Gael and 2 Fianna Fáil TDs last time. based on early tallies it seems that Catherine Murphy (the Social Democrat), who is a very good candidate with a strong local following, will get re-elected on the first round but the Sinn Féin candidate Réada Cronin looks likely to win a seat too. That is remarkable because she only polled 6.55% of the votes in the last General Election and also lost her County Council seat in the Local Elections last year. It’s been a remarkable turnaround for her and for Sinn Féin generally. If SF do win a seat that means at least one of the incumbents will lose theirs. But who? We’ll have to wait and see!

Counting has really only just started so I won’t comment much until the real results are available, except to say that it is very difficult to see what kind of Government will emerge from all this, which looks essentially like a three-way tie in terms of popular vote, because that will not translate directly into seats owing to the way the Single Transferable Vote works.

For example, take Dublin Central, the constituency of Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald. The STV system involves a quota for automatic election which is N/(m+1) votes, where N is the number of valid ballots cast and m is the number of seats in the constituency. Dublin Central is a four-seater and it seems that Mary Lou got about 36% of the first-preference votes, which is way past the quota of 20%. This surplus (16% of the valid ballots) will be re-distributed among the 2nd preference votes of those who put her first which could make a huge difference to the fortunes of those lower-ranked candidates. But where will they go?

One might imagine that Sinn Féin voters would rank other leftish parties, but there is a fraction who don’t use the whole ballot paper, but just put a 1 next to the SF candidate. Some of the SF surplus may be wasted in this way. Moreover, during the European Elections last summer I noticed some very strange transfers that went from SF to right-wing rather than left-wing alternatives. It’s all very hard to predict, but we’ll know soon enough.

It took several days to get the full results of the European Parliament Elections last year, but in that case the constituencies were much larger (both geographically and in terms of number of voters). There were also many more candidates on each ballot paper. Hopefully there will be a clear picture of the outcome of this General Election later this evening…

*the official turnout figure is 62.9%

Irish Election Update

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on February 3, 2020 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist one more update before Saturday’s General Election because there has been another opinion poll (Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI), which I’ve added to the previous ones here:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%
  • Sunday Times/Panelbase: FF 23%; SF 21%; FG 19%
  • Business Post/Red C: FF 24%; SF 24%: FG 21%.
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 23%; FG 20%; SF 25%

This last one is the first to put Sinn Féin in the lead, although to be honest the margin of error is 3% again so there’s really no evidence for a significant change on the last poll by the same outfit.

I still find it very hard to predict what kind of Government Ireland will end up with, but it seems even less likely than before that Leo Varadkar will be leading it.

British friends keep asking me whether all this change is a result of Brexit. I have to say that the answer to that is ‘no’ and neither is it driven entirely by thoughts of a United Ireland. The focus of campaigning is largely on domestic political issues, chiefly housing and health. Most people tend to think Varadkar has handled Brexit pretty well, but his party had failed badly in these other areas.

Irish Election Update

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , on February 1, 2020 by telescoper

Well. Life goes on, and so does the Irish General Election campaign. A week today I’ll be casting my vote. Sinn Féin seem the most energized by the events of the last week, even to the extent that their posters have been going up around Maynooth. The one above, showing leader Mary Lou McDonald, is on my way into work (the North Campus of Maynooth University is on the other side of the road, beyond the trees).

Since last week’s update there have been other opinion polls (by the Sunday Times/Panel base and Red C), which I’ve added to the previous ones here:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%
  • Sunday Times/Panelbase: FF 23%; SF 21%; FG 19%
  • Business Post/Red C: FF 24%; SF 24%: FG 21%.

The latest polls (like the others) are based on a small sample (1000) so has a large marging of error (around 3%) and is based on online responses and an uncertain methodology which may create a systematic bias. Those caveats aside, however, they seems to be telling the same story as the others: decline for Fine Gael and a relatively strong showing for Sinn Féin who are up 7% and 5% on the previous Panelbase and Red C numbers, respectively.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Sinn Féin end up with a share of the first preference votes around 25%. If that is the case they’ll probably wish they had stood more candidates, which they will probably do next time if they perform strongly in the actual election. They did poorly in the European Elections last year, which probably explains their rather defensive strategy. On the other hand if Fianna Fáil really are polling in the low twenties they may regret standing so many candidates, as their vote may end up splitting so that none reach the quota.

It will be very interesting to see how this all pans out. I find it very hard to predict what kind of Government Ireland will end up with, but I’m willing to bet that Leo Varadkar won’t be leading it.

Irish Election Update

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , , on January 26, 2020 by telescoper

I’ve not really got the energy for an long post today but I couldn’t resist a quick update on more opinion polls that must make uncomfortable reading for the incumbent Taioseach Leo Varadkar and his Fine Gael party. Last week I reported on the results with breakdown of first-preference votes for Fine Gael (FG), Fianna Fáil (FF) and Sinn Féin (SF) from two polls, to which I now add a third and a fourth:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%
  • BusinessPost/Red C: FF 26%; FG 23%; SF 19%
  • Daily Mail/Ireland Elects: FF 27%; FG 22%; SF 22%

All are based on quite small samples (923, 1200 and 1000 for the first three respectively; I don’t know the sample size for the 4th) and consequently have quite large margins of error (around 3%) but in broad terms they seem to be telling the same story.

The remarkable thing about the Red C poll however is that Sinn Féin are up 8% on the last poll from the same outfit while Fine Gael are down 7%. I sense quite a lot of momentum for the Shinners, actually, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they end up with a share of the vote around 25%. If that is the case they’ll probably wish they had stood more candidates, which they will probably do next time if they perform strongly in the actual election.

There’s a lot of talk in Ireland about the need for change, especially in respect of housing and healthcare. Real change will not come via the two establishment parties FF and FG, and I think the best chance in practice to create a better Ireland is through voting for Sinn Féin (although in my own constituency of Kildare North they don’t seem to have much of a chance).

There is a chance that FF+FG will form a sort of grand coalition to cling on to power. That might work in the short term, but I doubt it will form a stable government for long. We live in interesting times…

Signs of the Times

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2020 by telescoper

I’ve spent most of today on a secret mission so I’ve just going to do a brief post before I go home.

Since there’s a General Election campaign going on in Ireland, I thought I’d share the above picture I took on the Kilcock Road. Posters like this are a bit of a tradition at election time in Ireland. I’ve never seen anything like them in England or Wales. I’m told posters like this started going up in Dublin the day the election was announced, but it took a day or two for them to appear in Maynooth. There has been talk of banning this sort of display on environmental grounds, but they’re still here.

Other news on the election  is that two opinion polls have been published that must make uncomfortable reading for the incumbent Taioseach Leo Varadkar and his Fine Gael party. The results with breakdown of first-preference votes for Fine Gael (FG), Fianna Fáil (FF) and Sinn Féin (SF) are:

  • Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitude: FF 32%; FG 20%; SF 19%
  • Irish Times/IPSOS-MRBI: FF 25%; FG 21%; SF 21%

Both are based on quite small samples (923 and 1200 respectively) and consequently have quite large margins of error (3.3% and 2.8% respectively) so one shouldn’t get too excited by the fact that they differ by quite a bit. Moreover the transferable vote system adopted in Irish elections makes it difficult to translate the percentage of first-preference votes into seats in the Dáil because that depends a lot on transfers of lower-ranked preferences. I would however make the inference that it’s very unlikely that any party will get an overall majority on February 8th.

Another thing I’d say is that regardless of one’s voting preferences it seems to me quite wrong for the state broadcaster to pretend that this is a two-horse race and exclude Sinn Féin’s leader Mary Lou McDonald from its planned election debate. The Fine Gael leader seems very opposed to SF being represented in this debate and in my opinion it would serve him right if his party ended up in third place.

Oh, and I should point out that as a consequence of the referendum held in 2018, as of January 2020 blasphemy is no longer a criminal offence in Ireland.

 

Change in Northern Ireland

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , on December 17, 2019 by telescoper

One of the potentially most significant outcomes of the 2019 General Election, but one barely mentioned in the English media, was what happened in Northern Ireland. For the first time ever, a majority of the MPs elected in the six counties were nationalist. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) gained two seats to add to the seven of Sinn Féin (including a significant gain in Belfast North) while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost two to finish with eight. The remaining seat went to the Alliance, originally a moderate unionist party but now basically a liberal centrist (and anti-Brexit) party.

Here’s how the electoral map of Northern Ireland changed:

Sinn Féin seats are dark green, DUP orange, SDLP light green and Alliance yellow.

In terms of the popular vote, the DUP+UUP got 42.3% whereas SDLP+ Sinn Féin got 37.7. Both SF and DUP lost vote share compared to 2017 (by 6.7% and 5.4% respectively) at the expense of the Alliance (up 8.8%) and SDLP (up 3.1%).

Incremental differences, perhaps, but significant nonetheless – especially as Brexit hasn’t yet happened. After Brexit there will be a border in the Irish Sea, which will bring the end of partition one step closer. The probability of seeing a United Ireland in my lifetime has definitely increased.

It was no surprise to see the hashtag `#UnityPlan’ trending on Twitter immediately after the election. Irish unification will only happen if there is a public vote and a majority on both sides of the border agree. For that vote to be fair it is vital that there is a definite plan on how to proceed in the event that the vote is in favour, so the public know what they are voting for. The Irish should not make the mistake that Britain did over Brexit.

For many unionists religion was the primary reason for wanting to remain in the United Kingdom at the time of partition in 1921: Protestants felt that their identity would be threatened if they were made to join the Catholic South. Maybe they were right to feel nervous, as the original constitution of the Irish Free State enshrined “the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church”.  But the section including that phrase was deltd from the Constitution way back in 1973 and the Roman Church has far less influence in the Republic than it did. Ireland is now an open and progressive country, so I hope those fears have receded.

Just to confuse matters even further I should mention that my Grandfather, the one born in Belfast, to whom I owe my Irish citizenship,  was a protestant republican…

Those in the North who wish to keep their British passports should be able to do so in a United Ireland, just as those of us who were born in Britain but now live in Ireland can keep ours. I’ll be keeping mine, at least until it expires…

P.S. It is worth mentioning (primarily for British friends) that there are three counties in Ireland that belong to the province of Ulster but are not part of Northern Ireland as it was formed after partition: these are Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal. The northernmost point of Donegal, Malin Head, is actually the northernmost point on the island of Ireland.

The Centenary of the First Dáil

Posted in History with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2019 by telescoper

As I mentioned at the weekend, today marks the centenary of the historic first meeting of the Dáil Éireann, at the Mansion House in Dublin on (Tuesday) 21st January 1919. The picture above shows the 27 Teachtaí Dála (TDs) present. The event is being commemorated this afternoon.

I’m summarizing the events surrounding the First Dáil largely because I didn’t learn anything about this at School. Despite Ireland being such a close neighbour, Ireland’s history is only covered in cursory fashion in the British education system.

The background to the First Dáil is provided by the General Election which took place in November 1918 and which led to a landslide victory for Sinn Féin who won 73 seats, and turned the electoral map of Ireland very green, though Unionists held 22 seats in Ulster.

In accordance with its policy of abstentionism, the Sinn Féin MPs refused to take their seats in Westminster and instead decided to form a provisional government in Ireland. In fact 35 of the successful candidates for the General Election were actually in prison, mostly because of their roles in the 1916 Easter Rising and the Ulster Unionists refused to participate, so the First Dáil comprised only 27 members as seen in the picture. It was chaired by Sean T. O’Kelly; Cathal Brugha was elected Speaker (Ceann Comhairle).

As part of this meeting, the adoption and the ritual of ‘the Turning of the Seal’ establishing the Sovereignty of the Irish Republic was begun. The First Dáil published The Declaration of Irish Independence.

It also approved a Democratic Programme, based on the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, and read and adopted a Message to the Free Nations of the World in Irish, English and French:

On the same day as the first meeting of the Dáil (though the timing appears not to have been deliberate), two members of Royal Irish Constabulary were shot dead by volunteers of the Irish Republication Army in an ambush at Soloheadbeg, Co Tipperary. The IRA squad made off with explosives and detonators intended for use in mining. This is generally regarded as the first incident in the Irish War of Independence. The war largely consisted of a guerrilla campaign by the IRA countered by increasingly vicious reprisals by British forces, especially the infamous Black and Tans who quickly became notorious for their brutality and indiscipline.

Following the outbreak of the War of Independence, the British Government decided to suppress the Dáil, and in September 1919 it was prohibited. The Dáil continued to meet in secret, however, and Ministers carried out their duties as best they could.

The War of Independence lasted until the summer of 1921, when it was ended by a truce and the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. That, in turn, triggered another cycle of violence with the breakout of the Irish Civil War in 1922 between pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces and the eventual partition of Ireland into the independent Republic and Northern Ireland which remained part of the United Kingdom.