Monday, June 17, 2024

Disappointment for Sinn Féin as Irish local elections bolster coalition

Must read

Voters in Ireland have bolstered the centrist government, chastened Sinn Féin and elected a handful of far-right candidates in local elections.

The ruling coalition hoped also to perform well in the European elections, with preliminary results on Monday suggesting Ireland had, like other European countries, shored up pro-EU mainstream parties.

Some coalition figures urged the taoiseach, Simon Harris, to seize the momentum and call a general election in autumn rather than wait until March to complete a full term.

The local elections were a calamity for Sinn Féin, the main opposition party, which lost support to independents and micro-parties, a diverse, eclectic group that spans the far left and far right.

Growing public concern about the number of refugees and immigrants fuelled a proliferation of anti-migrant candidates but only a handful won seats on county and city councils. Hermann Kelly, the leader of the Eurosceptic Irish Freedom party, hailed the party’s first elected official – Glen Moore, in west Dublin.

With final tallies not expected until Wednesday it was unclear if any of the candidates who ran on an “Ireland for the Irish” themed platform would win a European parliament seat.

After four years in office and a severe housing crisis the government parties had braced for heavy losses but Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil each won 23% of the local election first preference vote and the Greens won 3.6%, modest slips from the 2019 local election that delighted the party leaders and surprised analysts.

Fine Gael gave some credit to Leo Varadkar, a former leader and taoiseach who unexpectedly stepped down in April, amid low ratings, which allowed Harris to succeed him and inject fresh energy – and greater restrictions on seeking asylum – into the party and government.

Harris brushed off calls from some colleagues to call an early general election. So did Micheál Martin, the Fianna Fáil leader. “We’ve agreed to go the full term and the taoiseach and I and Eamon Ryan (the Green party leader) have agreed that,” he said on Monday. The coalition was focused on an autumn budget, said Martin. “That is going to be very challenging, lots of pressure on expenditure.”

Sinn Féin launched an inquest after winning just 12% of the first preference local election vote. This exceeded its 2019 figure, and the party is expected to gain council seats, but until recently opinion polls gave the party more than 30% support, raising expectations of a landslide.

skip past newsletter promotion

The hardening public mood on migrants and asylum seekers damaged the progressive, populist, leftwing party. Some former supporters accuse foreigners of worsening the housing crisis and call Sinn Féin’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald, a “traitor” for not seeking greater curbs on migration.

The party was being blamed for government mistakes even though it was not in power, she said. “We’ve listened to people all across the state, their frustration, their anger, and on this occasion they’ve chosen to vote for independents.”

David Cullinane, the party’s health spokesperson, defended McDonald’s leadership and said Sinn Féin would bounce back. “When this government calls the general election, we will meet them head-on on their failed records on so many issues, but, more importantly, on our positive vision on what we can do to deliver,” he told RTÉ.

Latest article