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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

A triumph for Sinn Féin

SINN FÉIN President Mary Lou McDonald celebrated the fact that her party won 37 seats of the 160 seats in the Dáil Éireann, the Irish House of Commons, as a “Revolution in the ballot box”. This, she said, would allow her to form a “people’s government” prioritising housing and health. Indeed, it was a triumph. The party emerged with the largest share of the vote, overtaking the two traditional parties fianna Fáil and incumbent fine Gael, who collected 22.2 and 20.9 per cent of the vote respectively.

Seventeen of the top 20 elected members were from Sinn FÉin. They are now represented in all the Emerald Isle’s 32 counties. Sinn Fein could possibly have won more had they stood more second candidates in Ireland’s multi-member constituencies. This is something of a comeback because in the last major electoral test, the 2018 elections to the so-called European parliament, Sinn FÉin lost two of their three seats when their share of the vote fell from 19.5 to 11.7 per cent. In 2016 Sinn FÉin secured 23 seats with 13.8 per cent of the vote.

It was not, however, a landslide such as Margaret Thatcher won in 1983 or Tony Blair in 1997. The mathematically minded will note that these improved figures represented by Sinn FÉin’s 24.5 per cent of the popular vote and 37 seats amount to less than a quarter of both seats and votes. Her understandably elected remarks that “we won the election, we won the popular vote, we’ve recorded an historic victory for our party” will be disputed.

This means that there will be weeks if not months of horse-trading before a workable government is formed. In 2016 it took 70 days for a government to be formed. On that occasion fine Gael secured support from Independents and came to deals with fianna Fáil on some questions. Alternatively, they might follow the Israeli example and hold repeated elections until something or other works out.

Sinn FÉin has ruled out going into coalition with either fianna Fáil or fine Gael, and in the case of fine Gael the feeling is mutual. In the Northern Ireland Assembly, Sinn FÉin are in coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who were once their deadliest enemies. fianna Fáil has not actually closed the door on working with Sinn FÉin, with the possibility of a rotating premiership suggested.

There are no shortages of possible coalition partners. Apart from the main three, there are 20 Independents, twelve Greens, six each come from both Solidarity—People Before Profit and Labour, the Social Democrats have five and a solitary representative from the anti-abortion Aontú makes up the total.

As in Northern Ireland, curious coalitions can be formed. An offer of a well-placed new road can often win over formerly opposing MPs into a ruling coalition. In 2007 the Green Party was the junior partner to fianna Fáil. In 2011 it was rewarded with a wipe-out at the polls from its one-time supporters who were disgusted at its blatant swapping of principles for the temporary benefits of office.

The possibility of a grand coalition between the two traditional parties cannot be ruled out entirely.

On Tuesday the Solidarity—People Before Profit TD for Dun Laoghaire played down the prospect of a Sinn FÉin-led left government, saying that he “doesn’t believe the numbers are there for an alternative coalition of progressive parties”. The much-reduced Labour Party said it was unlikely to enter government with Sinn FÉin and raised doubts around whether it would enter any government at all. McDonald has said a referendum on reuniting Ireland is the “direction of travel” and that Britain will need to prepare for Irish reunification, but immediately afterwards sounded a note of caution adding that she wanted to avoid a “disorderly” reunification citing the example of Brexit as a warning.

Sinn FÉin abandoning its opposition to the European Union does not mean that it accepts the neoliberal policies of the EU that have brought so much hardship to Ireland. If it gets into power it will be difficult to see how it can even begin to tackle within the constraints of the EU the problems it made much of in the election campaign.

Before the election, People Before Profit warned that if “one of the parties that talk left today go into coalition with fine Gael or fianna Fáil it could be a disaster”, pointing out that when Labour was in coalition it increased the pension age, and later the Green coalition with fianna Fáil saw them bailing out the banks and cutting 300 Dublin buses.

We need to wait and see if this particular history will repeat itself.