According to the latest polling, from the “Oirish” edition of The Sunday Times, Sinn Féin is currently at the top of the electoral pyramid with 32% support, followed by Fine Gael on 27% and Fianna Fáil on 22%. Even allowing for the margin of error, it does seem that SF is holding or improving on its post-general election standing while FG suffers a minor retreat from its now customary polling lead. However I suspect that the good showing by the party of Mary Lou McDonald has less to do with its performance in the Oireachtas or the news media and more to do with Micheál Martin’s dumpster fire of a coalition government.
With the partnership of Greenshirts, Blueshirts and Hempshirts stumbling from one self-made scandal or crisis to another of course Sinn Féin with its rather smaller troubles is going to look like a safer bet to voters. Governments rarely get the credit for doing something right since that is simply what is expected of them while their missteps and mistakes, deliberate or otherwise, are blown out of all proportion. Though in the case of the current administration, with its slight whiff of the politics of the brown paper envelope, the proportions seem just about right.
Absent a dysfunctional government in power Sinn Féin might well find itself in deeper trouble than its most ardent admirers might like to admit. The always excellent Sam McBride does a good job of outlining some of the reasons for this in the News Letter, ranging from SF’s failure to bring forward an Irish Language Act for the Six Counties to the latest revelations about draconian internal party control. While the centre-left and anti-establishment party has every reason to be sensitive to the prejudicial reporting of the country’s inherently right-wing and establishment-defending media, one is still left with the impression that Sinn Féin is frequently its own worse enemy.
The solution to that may be better party management, and a real root and branch reform of how it does things in the post-war political landscape created by the peace process of the late 1990s and early 2000s. That work is clearly underway and has been for some time; but self-evidently there is still a way to go. However, I might suggest that another part of the required change is a reform of the media landscape itself and the establishment of a truly pluralistic press representing the broad swathe of Irish public opinion. And not just the half of voters that support Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. If commentators claim that they want to see a break in the supposed control of Sinn Féin by unknown backroom figures before they can trust it, then they might also demand a break in the control of our closed-door media monopolies by rather better known and considerably more powerful boardroom figures.