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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

Housing policy can make or break Fianna Fáil’s future

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Faded glory...the Corrib Great Southern Hotel.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

When you approach Galway City from the east, you come across it as soon as you clear Merlin Park – standing out like a sore thumb; a sentinel warning us that buildings like humans fall victim to the ravages of time and to fortune.

The Corrib Great Southern Hotel is the city’s biggest eyesore and has been for many years. It’s a huge hulk of a building; vacant for many years, heavily vandalised, its windows smashed or boarded-up, its once-pristine grounds now overgrown.

Built in 1970, it’s long way away from its heyday when, in an era of optimism, it became the CIE-owned Great Southern Hotel Group’s most modern hotel.

We were kids when it was operating fully and it seemed to be thriving, as a hotel, wedding venue and for dinner dances.

All of that seems a long time ago now. The hotel has been vacant for a hell of a long time (since 2007) and in a way has become a symbol of Galway’s housing crisis.

All the more so because it stands across a roundabout from the gleaming new Garda headquarters and also the wonderfully revamped GMIT.

It’s been due for demolition for a long time and has been on the derelict site register since 2015 – but no action has been taken despite statutory orders on the registered owners.

In one way, the hotel is a symbol of the inertia of successive governments in tackling the housing crisis in Ireland. The inaction in relation to it is replicated across the board in Galway and in all other Irish counties.

The roots of the current housing crisis have its beginnings in the Celtic Tiger years when local authorities stopped developing their own housing and left it to the private market.

A big part of the strategy was Part V housing, where developers had to earmark ten per cent of all new developments for social housing.

The second hammer blow was the recession. When the money ran out after 2009, one of the first casualties was capital funding for housing.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Labour’s awakenings will take time to reap any real reward

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Passing of the baton...Michael D Higgins with his successor Derek Nolan at the Galway West count at Leisureland.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

The film Awakenings was based on the experience of the psychiatrist Oliver Sacks with patients who had contracted a disease called encephalitis lethargica during and shortly after World War I.

Thousands contracted it around the world. How they got it has remained a mystery but it could have been connected to the Spanish Flu outbreak at the time.

It essentially left them in a catatonic state, sleeping, unmoving, like zombies for decades. By the time Sacks came across a group of them in New York, they were all residents of an institution called the Beth Abrams Home for the Incurable.

That did not leave much to the imagination. Some of these people had been essentially sleeping for over 40 years.

He experimented with a drug called L-dopa, which had been used successfully for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

The effect was extraordinary; the drug was like an electric shock that jolted the patients back to life and to sentient existence.

The ‘miracle’ had its drawbacks, however. After a while, it became difficult to control the patients as they became increasingly manic. Ultimately a tough decision was taken to withdraw the drug and the patients relapsed into their catatonic states.

All of that is a bit of a stretched way of saying ‘flash in the pan’, but life sometimes teaches us that success can be very temporary indeed.

There is a long pattern in Irish politics, for example, of a winner in a by-election going on to win a seat in the subsequent general election. However, less than six months after winning a by-election in Wexford, Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fáil got turfed out in the general election.

Look at it the other way. Sinn Féin were the big losers of the 2019 local elections but turned the ship around completely less than nine months later. The lesson to be learned is success or failure is never a permanent phenomenon in politics.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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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Connacht Tribune

Changing political landscape fast becoming Double Dutch

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Big winner...Ivan Bacik after her by-election victory.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Holland is so used to enduring a perennial political log-jam – where every election just digs you deeper and deeper into a rut – that they’ve actually come up with their own name for it.

It’s called Dutchification – when society has become so urbanised, and globalised, and fragmented, and lacking cohesion, that no party, or parties, can expect to win any more.

The former RTÉ journalist Peter Cluskey wrote a very interesting article last week about this continued electoral limbo they have in Holland, where he’s been based for many years.

And truth be told, the same is happening here; the day of overall majorities is long gone.

We have gone from having two large parties to having three medium sized ones (and with the demise of Fianna Fáil it could even by two medium sized ones, or one large and one medium).

The reality is that it will be difficult for the foreseeable future for any two parties to form a coalition, and it could be difficult for any three parties to do the same.

The old fealties to the three long-established parties have been blown out of the water.

The biggest pool of voters now has no permanent loyalty. They are the floaters.

And there is a growing ‘none of the above’ contingent too, possibly spurred on by the cynicism, empty populism and downright lies, of social media.

They will vote for a party that opposes the government. And once that party they support goes into government, they immediately withdraw their support for it. Short of coming up for an elixir that guarantees everlasting joyous life, these voters will never support a party in government.

I know it sounds cynical but if you talk to enough people around the country – as I always try to do – the person with a deeply cynical disposition and a hate of politicians is no longer a rarity.

Sinn Féin is the growing party at the moment and – from this vantage point – looks like it will be in government for the next spin.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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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