The recent MRBI opinion poll for the Irish Times raised some eyebrows a month ago as it showed that Fianna Fail is currently the second most popular political party in Ireland. Given the public’s contempt with the party for presiding over the boom and bust of the Celtic Tiger era, some people were taken aback at the prospect of Fianna Fail potentially returning to power after the next election as part of a coalition with their arch rivals Fine Gael. The poll was also interesting as it saw Fianna Fail overtake Sinn Fein in the popularity stakes.

The poll should read as good news for Fianna Fail. The party has moved past hitting rock bottom, floating Fine Gael voters have started to return to the fold and they are seen as a more credible opposition party. Similarly, it should be read as bad news for Sinn Fein, who were previously on a bit of a roll. They outmaneuvered Fianna Fail during the Presidential election and have garnered a lot of support for their anti-austerity position, but this latest poll is a bit of a blow.

Here is an alternative view. In the short term the poll is good news for Fianna Fail, but if they are returned to Government after the next election then their resurgence will be nipped in the bud, while Sinn Fein will profit at their expense in two elections time.

Fine Gael and Labour have shown themselves to be almost as equally inept at reform as their predecessors. While the Government’s hands are largely tied when it comes to austerity measures, they have failed to show the leadership required to deliver change. Failure to deliver savings by abolishing a large number of public sector allowances, while cuts to home care and home help are to proceed is just one reason why the public’s satisfaction with the Government continues to fall.

Fine Gael may continue to top the polls but the party will eventually decline due to a death by a thousand cuts. If Fianna Fail swap positions with the Labour party, then they can expect a similar fate as a one-term coalition partner if the current manner of governing continues.

On the other hand, the longer that Sinn Fein can stay out of Government the better for their prospects. The reason for this is simple. If Fianna Fail enter a coalition Government, Sinn Fein will be left as the only alternative in the eyes of the public following Labour’s decline and the failure of an independent movement to emerge. Staying out of Government in the medium term also allows the party to break its ties with the past as the likes of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness step down and a new generation emerges to compliment the likes of Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty.


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Piaras Kelly
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