Mon. Mar 4th, 2024

Opinion: If Sinn Féin abandon left-wing policies it will make the far-right stronger

Photo: Mark Nixon / DER SPIEGEL
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As the prospect of a Sinn Féin led government forming in the near future becomes more realistic, pressure on the party grows. If Mary Lou McDonald becomes the next Taoiseach – as polls indicate she will – she’s going to be faced with an endless number of challenges to overcome.

McDonald and the other front bench TDs give the impression that they understand the enormity of what must be done in terms of housing, health and many other areas – but they mightn’t realise that if they fail in government, be it because of incompetence or backtracking on their traditional ‘socialist’ policies, they could be opening the door for the far-right to grow exponentially here.

Austerity and other neoliberal policies imposed by successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments, regularly propped up by Labour and the Greens, have left the country in a disastrous state. We have a crumbling healthcare system, inadequate public transport and the worst housing crisis the state has ever seen.

These mammoth tasks are seemingly impossible for any government to fix in just one term, something McDonald herself has already started to admit, but it’s likely that she and her republican colleagues are only going to get one chance – and a lot more rides on it going well than most people realise.

Global politics is changing. We only have to look at our neighbours in Britain to see the grip that the far-right has over their parliament. In their next election, Britons will have to choose between a Conservative party that moves further right every week and a Labour party that has seemingly abandoned any real left-wing principles to appear electable to centrist voters.

People across the world are unhappy with politicians and the poor standard of living created by them, so they’re starting to turn away from the moderate approach that sounds promising on the surface but fails to deliver any change – an ideology that figures like Barrack Obama and the Clintons embodied in the States.

While most of the world has turned right, the Irish electorate have, for the most part, turned left. This is partly because Sinn Féin has acted as a strong voice for the dissatisfied public during their time as the main opposition party and given voters a solid alternative to centre-right politics.

While other left-wing parties like People Before Profit-Solidarity and the Social Democrats saw boosts in the 2020 election, they’ve failed to make any notable gains since then and this plateau will likely lead to them losing seats to Sinn Féin in the next election as their popularity continues to reach record highs.

Sinn Féin have never been in government in the South. If they’re elected it’ll be because of promises they’ve made, not a proven track record – if they don’t deliver change quickly their newfound support won’t be long falling apart.

When Labour won a staggering 37 seats in the 2011 election, it was on the promise of implementing social democratic policies which many believed were badly needed after the Fianna Fáil and Green Party coalition brought the economy to its knees, but after five years of introducing austerity measures alongside Fine Gael they returned a disastrous seven TDs in 2016, while Fine Gael held on to enough seats to form another government.

Voters don’t expect Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to bring about any major changes, they maintain the status quo and the majority of people who vote for them are happy with that. Support for both parties is also engrained so deeply in Irish society that regardless of how miserably they fail in government, they’ll always bounce back in two or three election cycles time.

Alternatively, if a left-wing party is voted into government and they don’t live up to their manifesto, voters will turn their backs on them.

Widespread support for Sinn Féin is a new phenomenon and isn’t a sure bet going forward; many people who voted for them in 2020 were doing so for the first time, and as their polling numbers continue to increase it’s clear many more people are turning to them for the first time as well – if they don’t deliver, they’ll face the same fate as Labour.

The difference between politics today and ten years ago, when Labour struck out in government, is that the far-right is starting to gain more momentum in Ireland after using the pandemic and the influx of refugees to drum up fear.

The left has been proactive enough in opposition to stop most unhappy voters from moving right – but if they can’t deliver on what they’re promising, this could all change.

Many people in Ireland feel as though a century of the two establishment parties in government has failed them and those people are looking for a new ideology. Sinn Féin’s strong presence in opposition has made it easy for people to turn to them, but if they fail to implement their left-wing policies properly, vulnerable people will see little other choice but to turn right, an opportunity that extreme conservatives are waiting to seize.

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