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Sinn Fein on track for big gains – but not for government

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Sinn Fein did very well in the recent local elections, but is it ready for government?

It’s a quieter time of year and I suppose you get a little bit more room for reflection.

Since May, everybody has been talking about the rise in Sinn Féin and I suppose their success in both the European and local elections signalled the fact it has arrived as a major force in southern politics.

The party is still in third place and will probably remain in that position after the next General Election.

In the long term, however, many are convinced that Sinn Féin will eclipse one of the two major parties (and Fianna Fáil looks the more likely at this stage), forcing them into a coalition.

Leo Varadkar, the big star of the Coalition at the moment, said after the May elections that the next General Election in 2016 would be a battle between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.

It’s not that they will battle it out to the death. It’s just that the big ideological debates in the election campaign will boil down to clashes on the views espoused by Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.

Fianna Fáil and Labour will be generally seen as being close to the Fine Gael camp, except for a number of small but significant issues (Fianna Fáil in particular is closer to Sinn Féin on the national question – marginally closer only – and is very close to Sinn Féin when it comes to Irish language policies).

How well will the party do? If things don’t change dramatically over the next 18 months, fabulously. It’s going to be in contention for multiple seats in constituencies where the party is strong.

You can take it that Sinn Féin will take two seats in Donegal, Louth, Cavan-Monaghan and maybe a constituency like Dublin South-West. They have an outside chance of taking three out of five in one or two constituencies.

And they could take seats in a rake of constituencies where they had a pimple of a presence as recently as 2011 – Galway West is now a definite target.

The party has established an identity as the main out-and-out Opposition party, with a consistent anti-austerity message.

You see a lot of the moves and you wonder for if Sinn Féin really believes its own rhetoric (hmmm, a tough one, I’ll come back to you on that in future) or is just being cynical. Of course, there’s cynicism and opportunism there but it’s no different to any of the other parties.

Bertie Ahern was right in 2005 when he said it would take 20 years for it to complete the same journey as the Workers Party did. The party still has the discipline instilled from the military past. Its representatives are always on message.

It went to the point of farce when it actually came up with a whipped party viewpoint on the Garth Brooks concert. It has a lot of bright people but some are pretty hardline. It has more people working for the party (61) centrally than any of the other parties and the majority of its 150-plus councillors will be full-timers giving fealty to the party over any job or career.

Just as Varadkar has magically assumed an image as a straight talker, Sinn Féin has garnered an image of a possible alternative government.

Its opponents said that being in power in local authorities would remove a lot of its bite. But local government is second-tier and if things go wrong you can always blame central government.

I’d be surprised if Sinn Féin get really punished or tested in 2016.

Despite the change of leadership, Labour, like all minority coalition parties, will struggle to contain its losses. Fine Gael will lose seats too. Fianna Fáil will gain but not as solidly as seemed maybe a year ago (the party is a little becalmed at present, as the great Éamon Ó Cuív might put it).

Sure, some of the splinter parties will make modest gains, and the Reform Alliance may gouge at the edges of Fine Gael.

But the big winners will be Sinn Féin. People vote with their pockets in general elections.

Sure, Sinn Féin will find its pretty unconvincing economic policies subject to very rigorous scrutiny. If the answer to the Hillary Clinton question of ‘who do you call at 3am when the economy is on the verge of collapse’ is Sinn Féin, you might start to worry a little.

For more from Harry McGee see this week’s Tribunes

Connacht Tribune

Best laid plans and programmes can fall foul of political reality

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Debate snub...Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

If architects’ plans were like the Programme of Government,

  1. the country would be full of unfinished buildings
  2. that would look nothing like the plans.

Prospective governments spend weeks – and sleepless nights – working out the programme that will be the blueprint for their term of office.

Some even produce a glossy self-congratulatory report each year, showing how many of its targets have been achieved.

Two things need to be said about that:

  1. They are subjective.
  2. Nobody outside the bubble pays any attention to them.

Some set out ambitious targets for the first 100 days of government. That idea has been around since the 1930s and is designed to show a signal of intent, that the new Government is going to put its money where its mouth is.

More often than not the new regime learns to its cost that it has bitten off more than it can chew. Achieving something in the world of politics within 100 days is like reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace during a lunch break.

  1. Not exactly impossible
  2. But not exactly possible

And do governments learn from these mistakes? Do they realise that it is a bit of a ridiculous concept?

  1. No
  2. No

There is a political problem here. You might achieve the big things in politics, you might get a wobbly economy back on to an even keel, you might create a historic record for employment, you might push through the six referendums you promised to liberalise society.

But it’s a bit like the guy who earns a reputation for not buying a round. No matter if he has devoted his life to the service of others, and has sacrificed everything for the personal good.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Politics and law have been entwined through the ages

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Seamus Woulfe...at the centre of latest storm.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

I remember when I was a kid there was an Irish rugby tour to apartheid South Africa which caused a huge furore, including a (if I remember correctly) a shouty row on The Late Late Show. One of the arguments used by those favouring the tour was: “Sports and politics should not mix.”

It went down well as a sound bite but was a nonsense; the reality is that politics mixes with everything, including sports. Nothing occurs in a vacuum.

Politicians make decisions over how sport is funded, how it is governed and regulated (look at the recent row over John Delaney’s tenure), and sometimes when it can be played.

All sports organisations have their own internal politics which can be more vicious than the stuff that goes on in Leinster House. And political parties have long ago discovered the benefits of putting a high profile former sportsperson up as a candidate.

Which brings us onto the bigger issue: the separation of powers in the State. Our Constitution draws out a relationship between the three arms of State – the Executive (government), Judiciary and Parliament (the Oireachtas). The impression that has been handed down to us is they are three goldfish in different bowls, all swimming, but in different waters.

It just doesn’t work out like that in real life. For one, for most of the history of the State, parliament has essentially been a chattel of government, with no real separate powers of its own.

In recent years, with less stable majorities for government than in the past, that relationship has changed – but parliament is still very much subservient to central Government.

It’s not just lip service when it comes to relationships with the legal establishment. There is an effort to assert that they operate in separate spheres but real life often intrudes – it’s more or less impossible to maintain the divide, unless you do it artificially.

For one, it is politicians who appoint judges, not other judges. Now, of course, judges have a say in it. There is the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) which assesses the merits of lawyers who are not yet judges.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

Biden brings normality back to world’s most powerful office

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US President-elect Joe Biden celebrates his victory with his wife Jill and his Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

I did not want to make the same mistake I made four years ago. Then I stayed up until about 1.30am and it looked like it was going okay for Hillary Clinton in Florida. So I said to myself, that big buffoon is done for. When I woke up the next morning Donald Trump was the President of the United States. He had somehow managed to win Florida and dismantled the Blue Wall of Democrat States in the Mid-West by taking Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

This time I stayed up until 4.30 in the morning. And that was a mistake too. For the picture was as unclear then as it was 12 hours later.

It was too close to call but already commentators were talking of a red mirage; most on-the-day voters plumped for Trump but early voters – whose votes were counted last – had steered very sharply towards Joe Biden.

It was historic. It’s really hard to knock out an incumbent president seeking a second term. It had been done only eight times before that in two and a half centuries.

Was it his inept handling of Covid-19? Had people grown sick of his vanity and his self-serving boasts? Did this natural disruption just cause too much turmoil and uncertainty in people’s lives? Did his partisan views, that red-mist madness, repel more than it attracted?

Well, the evidence is in the poll. The answer to all those questions is yes. To me, the outcome was clear. Biden won the popular votes. He also won the electoral colleges.

The majority was small and reflects a very divided society. Trump is the champion of rural, less educated, blue collar white, conservative, Hispanic and white America. Biden is popular among the middle classes, the urbanites, the better educated, and black voters.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app

The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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