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Alan O'Reilly: Sinn Féin's setback at the Irish locals could see Harris call an early election | Conservative Home


Alan O’Reilly is a political activist based in London.

While the UK is in the midst of an election, Ireland held long-awaited local and European elections. Taking place less than a year before a general election, these were seen as bellwether. To sum it up: government parties did very well, Sinn Féin did not.

Focusing first on the local elections, Ireland elected 949 local councillors across the country. The Republic uses a multi seat single transferable vote to elect its candidates, at European and local elections.

The government parties enjoyed a very good day at the office. Fianna Fáil look to be the largest party in local government, and Fine Gael are right behind them. (At time of writing there were less than a dozen seats to be finalised so the ultimately result of who is the largest party could go either way.)

While both parties lost seats, they will ultimately be more than happy with the position they are in. While there is still some counting to be done (STV means many day-long counts), both parties vote held up.

For the junior coalition partner, the Green Party, predictions of a hammering proved wide of the mark; while they lost seats there was no wipe-out.

For Sinn Féin, the story is so very different. While they have gained seats, there is little sense of any breakthrough – and they are now facing the third successive election where prospects of a such a result didn’t materialise.

In the 2019 locals, SF lost seats. At the 2020 general election, they became the biggest party in terms of vote share but failed to capitalise by running too few candidates. Now the opposite seems to be the case: too many candidates vying to split too small a vote leading them to at third-place finish in the locals (fourth, if one includes independents as a single bloc).

The question is now whether the republicans have a bigger problem than simply not nailing candidate selection. This election is the low point of months long downward trend in the polls.

There doesn’t seem to be one issue driving this trend. Some argue that Sinn Féin’s core vote is splitting shifting to more right-wing, anti-immigration candidates, others that attempts to reach out to a wider swathe of voters has diluted their clarity and undermined their message to voters. Whatever it is, SF need to figure it out quickly.

But before anyone starts writing them off, SF have shown a remarkable ability in the part to turn things around. As noted above they followed a seemingly disastrous 2019 local and European elections with the biggest vote share in 2020 general election.

For Simon Harris, the newly-minted Taoiseach, this is a good election. Voters seems to respond well to his enthusiastic and energetic campaign.  here definitely seemed to be some sort of ‘Harris bounce’ in the polls; a government that months ago looked tired and worn out has a new lease of life and is on the front foot.

The question is, what next? Does he call snap election? Murmurings in government circles suggest a poll may be before Christmas; it’s not due till March, and the government could capitalise on Sinn Féin’s slide in the polls. So far, at least, these fascinating results have raised at least as many questions as they answered.



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