Fragmented political picture sees strange state of affairs

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Never has politics seemed so fragmented in Ireland with now four identifiable blocs in Irish politics – Sinn Fein, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Independent/Others – all attracting support levels within ten per cent of each other. The latter, which includes smaller parties like the Social Democrats and Aontú now accounts for 25 per cent of all voters.

The Irish Times/Ipsos opinion poll published last week confirmed a trend identified in other polls and that was that Sinn Fein – after riding a crest of a way for four years – is experiencing a slide in support.

Support for the party fell a whopping six points from 34 points to 28 in the poll, bringing it back to the lowest level of support in three years.

It could be a bit of a blip but could also be the beginning of a decline. One opinion poll does not an election make, but if the poor figures for Sinn Fein are repeated in the summer, it may prompt the Government parties to call an early election. I’m going to dig down on some of the implications.

  1. The reason for Sinn Féin’s decline is immigration.

The poll was conducted after the restoration of institutions in Northern Ireland and the installation of Michelle O’Neill as First Minister. Yet the party got no bounce from it. A six-point drop was serious in anybody’s terms.

For a decade now, the housing crisis has been the biggest issue in Ireland. Successive governments have thrown the kitchen sink at it with only limited success. Sinn Fein, though its housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin, owned the issue.

When a large number of refugees and asylum seekers started coming to Ireland after Covid and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the pressure on accommodation was first presented as another dimension to the housing crisis. But at some stage, probably towards the end of last year it became another issue.

That was immigration. It has gone from nowhere as an issue of importance to voters last August (five per cent said it was the main priority for them) to the biggest single item of concern in January this year (24 per cent).

Pictured: Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin… fragmented picture muddies election outcome.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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