We could say that, based on the traditional notion that Sinn Féin (SF) is a terroristic political party which has plotted to topple the government, the Irish people have entrusted their administrations to Fine Gael (FG) or Fianna Fáil (FF) for about 90 years. However, this time SF won the biggest number of the first-preference votes under Ireland’s single transferable vote (STV) system, and acquired 37 TDs out of just 42 candidates in the 39 multi-seat constituencies while FG did 35 and FF did 38 out of much bigger number of candidates.
Here I would consider [1.] how SF overcame the above stereotype/prejudice and [2.] how the next coalition administration had better be formed.
1. First of all, as I wrote in another article*, the Irish people have been suffering from clear, present, and specific daily-life issues including housing, hospitals, and pensions. They have felt necessary to change the status quo in order to improve their lives. However, during these 10 years since Ireland’s acceptance of the IMF/EU bailout program, they could not have felt that their daily lives have been improved very much by FF’s or FG’s administrations.
Secondly, many young voters do not have living experiences to have seen incidents which are said to be related to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), whose political wing has been SF. While they have heard some of such stories from their parents, older relatives or acquaintances, etc., they must have little stereotypes/prejudices of SF as a dangerous political party. And I know many older people also voted for SF. Now we could add that, though outside of the Republic of Ireland (RoI), there have been such surprising results as Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s winning in 2016, which have also influenced RoI citizens directly and indirectly.
Thirdly, I would add in general that, especially after the 21st century began, the people can implement changing administrations with ease at every general election along with detailed information through the Internet in democratic countries, in case right-wing or left-wing parties take power. On the other hand, in historically undemocratic countries, even in the current century, there have been no rule of law, no substantial elections, no freedom of action or speech, etc., though. In democratic and free Ireland, the people must have felt no reluctance to change the administration this time, because they can choose a different administration at next election if they need.
And, fourthly, I might need to add that SF president Mary Lou McDonald’s speeches have hit many people including me very keenly. I would say I am not a feminist or left-wing non-native English-speaker. And I must have known politics and policies in general more than ordinary people, and that a party leader cannot necessarily have a deciding power of every election. However, this time I honestly found her speeches were very good in terms of voice quality, concision, and lived-in feel as far as I watched some videos during election campaigns. Of course, it does not mean that other party leaders were bad, though.
Considering these four points, I would argue that SF’s surge was a matter of course, not that it overcame the stereotypes/prejudices this time. It might not be an exact timing to analyze about this topic, though I have originally wanted to pursue how SF overcame the fixed stereotypes/prejudices.
2. According to these possibly neutral thoughts, the best coalition for the people would be that a responsible administration with problem-solving abilities come to power. Two reasons why I write very vaguely like this are two similar parties under the STV system, and the situation where FG and FF have ruled out SF in considering coalition.
The two similar centre-right parties under the STV system seems to have a precondition that after each general election there could be a coalition government, because it makes it difficult that the biggest party can form a majority just by itself — i.e. it is not easy for the biggest party to make three candidates elected in five-TDs constituencies, where both of the two parties have ruled out each other in considering their coalition for about 90 years.
This means that the system urges elected people and their parties to bring out their full potential as professional politicians to realize the people’s will in forming a coalition. For example, this time FF and FG can rule out SF and form a great-coalition administration which will definitely incorporate SF’s policies including housing, hospitals and pensions into the administration’s policies. But it will be a very weak coalition government, because its approval rate will be low enough to be forced to be dissolved soon in case it cannot live up to the people’s expectations. If so, another good solution would be that FF and FG trust SF with forming a new coalition administration, which will also be dissolved soon in case either SF cannot carry out its responsibility which was caused by the result it won the biggest number of STV’s first-preference votes. In any case, it is the most important for politicians to reflect the people’s will.
Lastly I would like to note that the above is just my own perspectives as a non-Irish (Japanese) citizen. Of course, I have never been and will never be influential in the coalition talks and Irish politics. I will keep watching Ireland, through doing my best to always be neutral, while I might know it could be sometimes impossible to be perfectly neutral.