So it’s all over in the counts for the local government elections for 2019 with the final results from the European Parliament elections not far behind (bar the odd – and perhaps counterproductive? – recount). Two major stories have emerged from the vote. Firstly, the exit poll by RTÉ/TG4 which made such an impact last weekend seems to have been broadly within the margin of error, albeit exaggerating the levels of support for the Green Party while slightly downplaying the popularity of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Despite that, both the locals and the Euros have boosted the standing of Eamon Ryan’s Greens, giving the group a raised profile for a general election contest that might not be too far away. With environmental causes making the headlines both nationally and internationally, the GP has reaped the rewards of fighting the good fight over the last decade, likely aided by the excellent showing of the party’s regional branch during UK-administered local elections in the north-east of the country. That said, there remains the distinct possibility that the Greens were seen as a safe home for a “protest” or even a “virtue signalling” vote among some parts of the electorate and that this support may well swing back towards other options in a Dáil election. Especially as the leadership of the Green Party makes very conspicuous attempts to position itself as a future coalition partner for the parties of the right and centre-right. (Which brings back memories of the Greens’ reputation as neoliberalish “Eco-Tories” during their term in government with Fianna Fáil between 2007 and 2011.)
The second big story concerns the performance by Sinn Féin which suffered a bad election. Or rather, two bad elections. Its share of the vote in the EuroParl and the locals nose-dived, losing the party two MEPs – the ongoing recount in the South constituency notwithstanding – and a raft of councillors across the country. Despite much discussion and speculation over the last week, it’s not that hard to detect the reasons for SF’s poor showing in what has been an electoral perfect storm for the party.
There was the issue of guilt by republican associations following the fatal wounding of the journalist Lyra McKee during recent street protests in the city of Derry. The continuing impact of negative legacy matters from the conflict in the north of Ireland. A series of scandals and controversies involving local representatives in several parts of the country, often leading to press-hyped resignations or dismissals (with many former SF councillors successfully standing as independent candidates this time around). The loss of two big hitters on the national stage with the death of Martin McGuinness and the stepping down of Gerry Adams. The failure of Mary Lou McDonald to connect with voters, her popularity falling somewhere between the electoral territory of the middle- and working-classes. The move by the party towards more traditional centre-left and Labour-lite territory, occasionally to the confusion of its own policies and instincts. And in the EuroParls the stiff competition offered by two transfer-friendly candidates from the Independents 4 Change bloc who gained large personal votes at the polls pushing SF’s sitting MEPs out of the way.
While one should be cautious about extrapolating the votes in local government and European Parliament elections onto a general election, there is the strong possibility that Sinn Féin will find its representation in Dáil Éireann falling well below the twenty-plus mark in any future contest if this trend continues.