The Irish, European and local elections last week delivered an astonishing verdict on the state of Irish politics.

Middle class and upper class areas in Dublin have begun voting Sinn Fein, with party candidates taking the city by storm.

“Sinn Fein coup in Capital leaves mainstream parties reeling,” screamed The Irish Times headline.

It was as if the barbarians were at the gate for many well-off southerners who connect Sinn Fein only to the bad days in the North and feel they are an alien force in the south.

Not any more. Middle class areas like Dundrum and even leafy suburbs such as Dun Laoghaire have taken to electing Shinners, many in the most surprising constituencies.

Party leader Gerry Adams bemoaned the fact Sinn Fein did not have enough candidates to capitalize on party’s huge popularity surge.

The great Sinn Fein leap forward in the south comes at a time of huge growth in the North where the party pulled more first preference votes than any other for the first time ever.

The North has been a Sinn Fein work in progress for many years and is now really bearing fruit.

The south is a different matter, though. Sinn Fein’s growth is a protest vote against the massive austerity program enacted by the current government in Ireland over the past three years.

The last three straws have been the cutting of many medical cards, the imposition of water charges and clear cases of police corruption that were blocked from the public.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny had the support of the country in his first two years, reversing the tide of the daily scandals over the unholy alliance of speculators, incompetent bank overseers and seemingly financially illiterate Fianna Fail government ministers who failed to see the catastrophe coming.

Kenny’s achievement was to build confidence and competence, and get the European debt masters off the country’s back.

But the austerity measures may have gone too far, coupled with the first big scandal over recently fired Justice Minister Alan Shatter. Kenny suddenly finds himself vulnerable in the extreme.

With old rival Fianna Fail making a decent comeback in the election, Sinn Fein soaring and his coalition partner Eamon Gilmore being booted from the leadership of the Labor Party which was essentially wiped out by an angry electorate, Kenny has much to ponder.

Sinn Fein as a partner in government either with Fianna Fail or Fine Gael suddenly looms a possibility.

But Adams is far too astute a politician to aim his party at any such arrangement. The fate of junior partners in coalition governments has been dire, with Labor, the Greens and the Progressive Democrats essentially annihilated and blamed for the government’s problems.

The tectonic plates have shifted forever in Irish politics after this election. Where they end up settling after the next election is anyone’s guess.