Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How to stop a three-horse race - and stop Sinn Féin being squeezed out AGAIN!

Below is a piece from Ruadhán. The questions raised are crucial if Sinn Féin is not to be squeezed out yet again by the three main parties in the South. Is the time ripe for some major new thinking in our strategy, or should we just carry on with what we are doing?


While there may be questions arising from the recent RedC and Irish Times /Ipsos polls as to Labour’s actual support and its future sustainability, it is undeniable that there is now a 3-way contest.

For the first time since the foundation of the 26-county state, the electorate have decided that Fine Gael are no longer the only viable alternative to Fianna Fáil. Unfortunately for the Republican movement, however, the electorate are now turning, not to Sinn Féin, but to our main rivals: the Irish Labour Party.

Fianna Fáil’s support has plummeted SINCE 2007. The party polled 42 per cent in 2007, falling to 24 per cent in 2008: today's RedC poll confirms that FF remains stuck at this all-time low. However, it is the Labour party, under Eamon GiLmore, that has benefited from Fianna Fáil’s collapse - all other opposition Dáil parties, including Sinn Féin, remain unchanged.

The Labour tide is high not only because Eamon Gilmore is more appealing than his inept Fine Gael rival, Enda Kenny, but because Labour has succeeded in ideologically distinguishing themselves from both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on key issues, such as the bank bailout and taxation, even if, from a left perspective, this distinction is an optical illusion.

This seismic shift in the Southern political landscape could only have happened in the current climate: spiralling unemployment and mounting public debt. All are traceable to the criminal behaviour - incentivised by Government - of bankers and builders.

Under these unprecedented conditions, Sinn Féin should be doing a lot better than 8 per cent. Our present stagnation is unacceptable. While the usual excuses, such as our limited Dáil representation and the so-called hostile media, may be proffered, we are still the third opposition party in the South. Furthermore, we retain a relatively wide-reaching organisational capacity and, in theory, a distinct socialist republican ideology.

The argument that we must wait for greater Dáil numbers to improve our support is one that has repeatedly been made. This contention is as flawed as it is fatalistic. At the height of the Celtic tiger, during Fianna Fáil’s golden period in 2004, Sinn Féin polled at 12 per cent. If the party had been able to sustain that momentum, we could be ahead of Fianna Fáil today.

The last two elections have made it clear that our core vote is stuck at 6 per cent. There may be a further 4 per cent who could vote for us but, for various reasons, when it comes to polling day, these soft supporters migrate. When it comes to the last week of a general election, Sinn Féin vanishes into thin air, deprived of media oxygen just when it needs it most. Just as we were choked by the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael battle in 2007, so we could be strangled by the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-Labour contest in 2012.

The real problem for Sinn Féin today is this: not only could Labour capture almost all of the Fianna Fáil’s lost support, but they could also hoover up our own voters while so doing. While Sinn Féin’s support has broadly held up in the latest opinion polls, it is only two months since we nosedived to 6 per cent in the April RedC poll. That 4 per cent drop, remember, went primarily to Labour and is directly related to an increase in its media coverage.

The media will focus on the main opposition parties in the last 2 weeks of a general election, as they usually do, to the exclusion of Sinn Féin, and so we face another death-bed squeeze, as voters vote for the parties in the media. If the current trend continues and our strategy remains the same, the party seems doomed to poll once again below 7 per cent at the next general election.

Local campaigning alone will not grow Sinn Féin: in today's fraught political environment, the battle for hearts and minds will be fought over the big issues. Only national realpolitik can save the day.

The party’s overriding difficulty, however, is the public’s perception, which seems to be that Sinn Féin is northern-centred. This is partly due to our extraordinary electoral and political achievements in the Six Counties, which have long overshadowed and, indeed, now serve to underline, our current stagnation in the South. This imbalance, coupled with the fact that we not have an obvious figurehead in the South, has led to the public perception of northcentricity, namely, that Sinn Féin is led from the North.

The overwhelming risk here is that the Southern electorate will decide that party leaders, such as Eamon Gilmore, whose constituency lies in the South, have a superior understanding of the daily grind faced by ordinary working people, and are therefore in a better position to represent them.

A clearly identifiable Southern leadership is therefore required, if we are compete with Gilmore, undermine Cowen and out-manoeuvre Kenny.

I believe we can transform and grow in the South in addition to consolidating and expanding in the North. All it requires is confidence and courage.

That Sinn Féin requires an elected leadership North and South in order to successfully campaign in both jurisdictions has crystallised. That leadership must be united. It must be rooted in parity of esteem, in dual leadership. Only this can give the party the tools it so badly needs to appeal to all voters on this island, and to deliver the balance of power required to achieve our goal of a united Ireland.

I believe the time has come for Sinn Féin to act decisively. We can no longer wait for the natural evolution of a Southern leadership. That evolution is premised on a vain hope, namely, that we will, in the fullness of time, somehow reach an optimum level of TDs.

Now is the time to act, to capitalize on the state of the nation by establishing our leadership in the South. This will enable us to go in to the next election with renewed energy and rewired momentum.

That leadership can only be established through election. Anyone who believes that it is not necessary for a leadership to be elected is mistaken. Moreover, future leaders should be selected following a contest decided by the party’s grassroots.

A Southern leader should now be chosen without delay from our current group of elected public representives in Leinster House. The major issues of the day break in Leinster House and the Dáil remains our best platform for translating our socialist republican ideals into policies that will attract an electorate hungry for change.

Brave decisions taken now to form a recalibrated united leadership will optimize our chances of winning fresh Dáil seats. The alternative is face a potentially crippling election defeat in the upcoming general election.


  1. yes your right the party is seen as northern centric but why is that a weekness, because we make it a weekness.

    what happened after the party plumited to 6% in the opinion polls to get us back up to 10%? michelle gildernew in fermanagh south tyrone. can't think of any other event that got noticeable media attention in that period.

    SF is a 32 county party the people who vote for it vote for it on that basis. adams is the best asset the party has. when FG are killing each other because there front man doesn't have carisma, when brian cowan looks like getting the chop, not for everything hes done in the last year, but beacause he's a bad media preformer, replaceing the most carismatic politician on the island is daft. find a way to use him better.

    we have spokespersons on issues down here. but there should only be one leader. i don't think distanceing from the north will have the effect you want. the preseption wether right or wrong for the last eight years that mcdonald was being gromed for leadership didn't result in any rush of support and in some quarters, unfairly, maybe a bit of hostility.

    adams had a perseption of being weak on economics thats what the opponents portayed him as. that calling for the banks to be nationalized was essentric. SF should have nailed it home, told you so and they should have got adams to do it for the last year. he did it at the ard fheis but he does appear to be being kept away, and thats us falling in to our oppenents trap because there trying to knock out the best player.

    but theres two battles, one national and one local. we don't have acess to the media that other parties have (south of the boarder anyway). its not crying its fact. now some where in the last decade how we conduct local campaigns has got confused with running a perpetual election campaign. we used to do local campaigns brillient. they were the base of our original sucesses. we've moved away from it in the rush and its cost us.

  2. Good post. Its a square challenge to how we are currently doing in the bottom half of our country and no harm because our ambitions extend beyond our current poll positions and right they should. Ambition to be a bigger player in the s outh and electing people right across the southern state is a good thing and so is trying to figure out how we can best do that.

    Following the SBP poll which seems to again indicate smaller parties being trampled in the rush then we should figure out how best to avoid that which would be frankly crushing.

    I think it was always natural that our friends, and rivals, in Labour would be the home to the floating vote. They are well established, have already a govt. record. I am not convinced that we were ever going to secure enough of these breaking votes to make this a 4 way race. Not Yet.

    But its disappopinting that we are still hoveing at the 8% level. ( I think that 6% was an anomaly though it raises valid fears in us all about 2007).

    You are right that the party thinks we are northern centric. No doubt about it but that needs to be challenged. How is the question.

    The collective profile of the southern reps should be increased I agree.

    I am not so sure about dual leadership though. The very dynamic of power means it would be dusruptive rather than unleashing new creative energy in the party. I cant see a dual leadership working full stop. I think it would only weaken us further.

    Your comment that Local campaigning alone will not grow Sinn Féin is bang on the money. No party has yet managed to work that one out successfully. Many parties are working on local issues only but they are operating at councillor/one td level. But as noted above local work was the origin of our success.

    But now we need to transition to a bigger party which means new tactics and means, keeping the old successful tactics but recognising that becoming a 12 seat party is different to becoming a 4/5 seat party.

    Anon of 1:43 good points. Adams is our best player but fighting the economics perception. but do we take off our best player.

  3. first Donegal mayor in nearly a century.
    First Sinn Fein Mayor in Mallow
    Mayor in Monaghan,
    Mayor in Dublin South.

    other side of the coin is maybe this just takes a long time to build,but know are on getting results slow.

    Who knows but this needs to be talked about and teased out. Only way to make sure we all figure out the right way.

  4. I have a great deal of sympathy for the original article but I think that there is a difference that confuses the electorate in the two jurisdictions in our country. We see ourselves as a socialist republican party in the south but don't act as such in power in the north. At meeting in Dublin a number of years ago, a senior strategist stated that we don't need to express the fact that we are a socialist party, But I think that we actually do.
    The comment from anonymous states that they cannot think of any political events that can explain the rise of SF poll from 6 to 10%. We I remember Michell G talking on TV expressing sympathy for poor Sean, sure we all make mistakes. The Sean is Sean Quinn of numerous financial companies - I don't think he could be described as a man of the plain people of Ireland. The next was the protest outside the Dail where republicans were widely accredited for helping the protest. Maybe the sympathy for poor Sean (sic) might have undermined undeclared socialist credentials.
    The original article stated that the Labour party's rise was due to the obvious differences between them and the conservative FF/FG. Surely this where we must position ourselves, working towards a left/republican tradition, worthy of Mellows.
    We have our momentum lost in many ways, if we had been in this position rather than out FFing FF we might had regained the momentum. This could be ours again with a clear political strategy which is not based purely on community activity. The support for community festivals and local campaigns are very important, but need to be based on republican politics with an alternative agenda, that will attract voters when the larger politial questions are asked at a general election.
    We have the responsibility to the people of Ireland to fulfil the Proclomation and to honour the Democratic Programme of the First Dail.

  5. pasty od.

    true prior to dropping to 6% michelle did express suport for the quinns. maybe that had some part to play in it. i think the media coverage of her holding her seat was a lot greater than the coverage she got for that comment and the context of her victory, i think the north can have a positive knock on effect on the party down here any way. but swings and round abouts yes how the party is precieved on economics in the north has a knock on effect in the south.


    that sounds brillient. don't understand half of it but the bit i do SF isn't doing.


    i think we are. not saying he should be the only one talking on it but concidering he was hit so hard previously on supposedly being weak on economics by people you wouldn't send to get magic beans, then to undo that preception adams should have been sent out more. maybe a bit late now.

    first anon