Local elections will indicate how far Sinn Féin has come

World of Politics with Harry McGee

As commentators like myself have found to our cost in the past, secondary elections are not always good weathervanes for what’s going to happen in a general election.

The local elections in June 2019 were a very good example. The two big parties did well, with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil gaining seats. It was a disaster for Sinn Féin. It lost half its 160 seats and had a bad day in Galway, losing all its seats on the City Council and ending up with a single seat on the County Council.

The poor showing influenced the decision by Sinn Féin to pare down its slate of candidates to the bare minimum, whic kind of backfired on the party. When the 2020 elections came, it didn’t have enough candidates to benefit from the jolt it got from the political defibrillator.

The election of 2020 was a strange election and one that will be analysed for some time to come.

The electorate wanted change. Fianna Fáil presented itself as a party of change but voters saw it as part of the government. That was partly to do with the confidence and supply deal, partly to do with the fact that the era of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael dominance was coming to an end.

Sinn Féin’s ace card was housing. It was a real issue and Fianna Fáil’s alternative did not chime with people whereas Eoin Ó Broin’s did.

It was one of those elections that was decided on the campaign itself, not on the previous five years. And the clinching factor was Mary Lou McDonald who controlled the narrative from the start.

RTÉ excluded her from the leaders debate. That became an issue. She participated in the Virgin Media debate and ran rings around Micheál Martin. It was a key moment. The direction of the election was decided there and then. There was no going back for Fianna Fáil.

I have written here before that the next general election will be different. Of course the campaign itself – what happens in those three crucial weeks – will be really important.

Pictured: Sinn Féin local election candidates (from left) Lucina Kelly (Gort-Kinvara LEA), Louis O’Hara (Athenry-Oranmore LEA), and Ailish O’Reilly (Loughrea LEA), with Mairéad Farrell TD (second left) and Chris MacManus MEP (right) at a recent selection convention held in the Temperance Hall, Loughrea.

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