Sinn Féin is being portrayed as the 'barbarians at the gate' ahead of polling day, February 8
“Cat” and “pigeons” are the obvious parallels to Sinn Féin spreading shock, awe, and anger as opinion polls showed them leading Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in party popularity just before the Irish election on Saturday.
The Irish Times best illustrated the extent of the severely ruffled feathers of the Irish establishment.
Their editorial on Thursday pronounced “Sinn Féin, Think Once Then Think Carefully,” a clear admonition to readers not to vote for them.
Their columnist Stepehn Collins fired off a column headed “Sinn Féin’s Rhetoric Is Dangerous and Its Exclusion from Power is Justified” which compared them to fascist parties in Europe.
Former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell had chimed in earlier claiming “Sinn Féin is not a normal democratic party” while there were numerous other negative stories.
You get the gist. Not just The Irish Times but the Independent, Irish Examiner were all suddenly “woke” to the barbarians at the gate.
Much of the angst related to the fact that it was young urban voters who were flocking to the party according to polls. This was in large part because Mary Lou McDonald, the party leader, was female, smart as a whip, and was knocking the ball out of the park in debates.
The younger generation of Irish voters took notice. As the Irish Times stated: “Look at the numbers. Sinn Féin has jumped from 17 percent to 27 percent among under 25s since October. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, the party has risen from 23 to 32 percent. And among 35-49-year-olds, the jump has been massive – from 13 percent to 30 percent.”
Watching McDonald develop the Sinn Féin base has been interesting. Up until this election, it had leaned too much towards being a party of protest. This time they have real solutions and a young cohort of forty-something leaders such as Mary Lou, Pearse Doherty, and Eoin O Broin who easily match up with the very best in the other parties.
As much of the country was saying “Hello Mary Lou '' they were, in a sense, bidding goodbye to the old civil war divide which had seen the two parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, emerge from that war to dominate Irish politics for almost a hundred years.
The little secret the two parties shared is that while paying lip service to the border and partition they were kings of their 26 county fiefdoms and the last thing they wanted was Sinn Féin crashing the party with this 32 county Ireland nonsense.
Long as they had their southern “Game of Thrones” with one replacing the other in a well-rehearsed Kabuki dance for close to 100 years there was no threat to their shared monopoly as the Labour Party never rose to equal heights.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin gave the game away referring in one debate to Sinn Féin “coming down here” even though the party leader is from Dublin and almost all their candidates are home-grown Irish Republic citizens.
There are several unknowns about how Sinn Féin will ultimately fare. Polls before in previous elections had them finishing higher than they actually did. Will the anti-Sinn Féin barrage from the media affect their vote? Those are questions we await answers to,
But irrespective of the result they will continue to grow and expand.
The real story is that Sinn Féin have simply outworked and out-organized the other parties as they did in the North where they went from 3 percent support to part of the government in 20 years.
Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams created an ingenious political construct enduring enough to outlast The Troubles and politically astute enough to see them end up in government in the North and likely soon in the south.
That is because the same long term strategy is in place in the south. You would travel a very long way to find a political grouping more dedicated, more hard-working and more ambitious than them.
The Irish Republic part of the play is now paying off but be assured that irrespective of the result they will be back outworking everyone on Monday morning.
There has never been a believable response as to why the party should not govern in the south when they are in government in the North. For too long the southern leaders have hidden behind their border and played their version of “Ourselves Alone”.
That day may well be all over after this election.