Just 30 years ago, the IRA was bombing Downing Street, firing three mortars at Number 10 while John Major was chairing a cabinet meeting.
In 2021, ourselves, the political party associated with the Irish Republican Army for most of the turmoil, has moved to center stage to lead the Irish government in what could be the biggest change in the country’s politics since its founding 100 years ago.
Ireland is three years away from the next general election and the victory of Sinn Féin or any other party is still far from certain, but the seismically slow shift in Irish politics is hardly worth mentioning outside the country despite the change in the dynamics it is already creating.
“It is not a question of whether, when will Sinn Féin be in power,” said one prominent businessman who asked not to be named.
This is their shift south of the frontier and their constant courtship of the middle classes, creating tensions over the identity of the party north of the border.
Before Christmas, a housing spokesperson, Eoin Ó Broin, called one of the most respected TDs Jerry Adams Apologizes For Christmas Sketches, Joking about a logo associated with the Irish Republican Army. In a bygone era, this dependency was a matter of discipline.
Commentators have attributed the party’s remarkable growth south of the border in part to its leader’s transformative powers, Mary Lou MacDonald, which has nothing to do with the Age of Troubles and is seen as a radical break with the past.
But it is also due to a change in tactics – placing issues such as housing, the economy and health ahead of a united Ireland – that is seen as extending its appeal beyond its former stronghold areas of the working class.
Poll after poll shows he is extending his lead after a year of détente over the two parties that have dominated Irish politics for a century. According to mid-December Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI PollSinn Fein’s support is now 35%, a seemingly unbridgeable gap for the two main parties in the coalition government – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael – which were each at 20%. Previous polls put Sinn Féin at 32% and 33%.
“You can see a political revolution happening before your eyes,” said Labor counterpart Andrew Adonis, who went to Dublin in October to observe the party at its conference and wrote a 3,000-word article for the February issue of Prospect.
«That would sound great to say, but it’s true, the thirst for power and discipline behind the leader to win power reminded me of New Labor in the 1990s.»
The businessman spoke of how the party was polishing its electability day by day, issuing statements to remove traces of links with past darkness and announcing policies deliberately designed to «detoxify» Sinn Fein for the middle classes. Notably, it did not fight the government over low corporate taxes, and said it would only increase taxes on the «top 3%».
MacDonald said to the party of believers gathered for The land of Fuheis The pandemic has exposed a broken housing system, a dearth of rental housing, inadequate health services, and a rising cost of living. Soon after she traveled to the United States, where she gave speeches at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. and the New York Bar on the impact of Brexit on the European Union. northern Ireland and the possibility of uniting the island of Ireland.
The party has also been reaching out to business groups in an effort to detoxify its standing in corporate circles. Report in Ireland Sunday Business Post He noted that while MacDonald «likes to accuse the government of opening the red carpet to vulture funds and institutional investors,» her analysis of the lobbying record revealed that business entities that had previously avoided contact with the party were trying to open channels of communication.
The Sinn Féin is a secretive and highly disciplined party, its members rarely deviating from what the leadership commands. The report also said that MacDonald has directed its members to reach out to companies, unions and sector groups as part of the government’s preparations.
The chance of Sinn Féin in government in Dublin raises the prospects for the Republican Party, founded in 1905, to be in power both north and south of the border, something that could dramatically alter the relationship with the United Kingdom and influence the debate that is gathering pace south of the border, with the hope of uniting Ireland.
Opinion polls show it has a chance of being the largest party in the May 2022 elections for the Stormont Assembly.
Its rise in the republic was first noted in 2020 when, after increasing support, it won its first preference votes in the February general election. The results did not translate into strength because the party fielded 42 candidates in a race for 159, but «they have brought about significant shifts in the political landscape,» said Agnes Mayo, a politics lecturer at Dublin City University and author of Rebels in Government, a new book. A book on Sinn Fein. «Up until 2020, her progress can be described as a protest vote,» she said.
Historian Diarmed Ferriter said 2020 saw greater success with middle-class and wealthy voters and that the party had evolved through «bargaining and accommodation». «This is Jerry Adams’ legacy party. In many ways he is the architect of this in the sense that he adapted Sinn Féin for constitutional purposes… He qualified their pure stances at various stages from the 1980s onwards.»
Ferriter said the expediency of Sinn Fein was not new. The party used to abstain from politics in Westminster and Dublin, abandoning its position on the latter in the late 1980s. The 1998 referendum was another important watershed for the removal of an article in Ireland’s constitution claiming sovereignty over 32 counties to clear the way for the Good Friday Agreement.
«Their acceptance of Northern Ireland’s existence was another turning point because they were accepting of the principle of consent. All these concessions made it more palatable,» Ferriter said.
Sinn Féin’s future success will depend on how far he advances in the opposition over the next three years as populist policies on housing and health come under more scrutiny and the question of her past is pushed to the fore.
Ferriter drew parallels with Fianna Fáil in the aftermath of the Civil War and independence in 1921. It was identified as a party «in the shadows of the armed» but «quickly got over this somewhat by emphasizing that they had impeccable conservative credentials and that they were not “They were not communists, and they were not believers,” he said.
He added, «Sinn Féin will obviously be dealing with legacies of disorders that appear often but do not seem to weaken their momentum, suggesting that this change is for generations.»
Kevin Cunningham, a former director of targeting and analysis for the British Labor Party and now a lecturer in politics at Dublin Technological University, sees Sinn Fein’s rise as a function of an increasingly confident nation turning away from the civil war politics that created the island’s two main parties.
«Since about 1980 and the decline in religiosity in Ireland, you see a fairly steady rise in the number of people voting for or supporting political parties that identify themselves on the left,» he said.
Voting for Fianna Fáil as well as Fine Gael was about 80% until 1980, then steadily declined decade after decade.
There were other parties on the left during those years. The Progressive Democrats and the Labor Party, in particular, were incredibly weak but at the same time there was a subset of the population who defined themselves as being on the left and Sinn Féin took hold of that and to some extent this is a kind of normalization of politics in Ireland.»
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