30 years ago, the BBC were so concerned that Gerry Adams’ sexy Irish lilt would lure unsuspecting viewers to his message that they decided to dub his voice as a precaution. Today his successor, Mary-Lou McDonald, undubbed and not-quite-so-sexy, has managed to do just what the BBC sought to avoid – recruit en masse to the Sinn Fein cause. The party’s new position as the second largest in the Dail has no doubt unsettled those in the electorate who still view the party through the lens of its violent past. Yet Sinn Fein’s remarkable achievement in the election should be something every supporter of democracy should celebrate – it is a display of the importance of policy, social progress, and the power of politically charged young adults.
For the last three decades, it would be inconceivable for the political wing of the IRA to have significant clout in the Dail. The fact that they now do illustrates that political parties do have the ability to evolve and change, and that voters can be receptive of this. Rather than voting on traditional, tribal lines, the Irish electorate have instead voted for policies they believe can fix problems in housing and health. They’ve shown the importance of a strong manifesto invested in domestic issues, and that the government can be held to account. By doing so, they have crumbled the Fine Gael and Fine Fail duopoly that has sustained Irish politics for decades. The race for office now has three participants, giving voters greater choice. Furthermore, the Shinners’ leftist policies have proven attractive to young voters, encouraging their engagement in politics. This is certainly a victory for liberal democracy.
Some may worry that Sinn Fein’s increased presence in the Dail will increase the likelihood of a border poll and the breakdown of the union, but these fears are unfounded. It is not up to the Irish to call a border poll – this responsibility effectively lies with the UK government. Instead, Sinn Fein’s newfound power will ensure that provisions can start to be made in the case that there is a border poll in the near future. As Brexit has painfully illustrated, preparation for the aftermath of a referendum is essential – Sinn Fein have pledged to ensure that this preparation will happen.
The biggest concern for many Sinn Fein opposers is that a party that was once in bed with the IRA now has widespread national support. However, the past tense of this statement is what is important.
Sinn Fein has shown that political parties can change and put a troubled past behind them. Their new leader is not a member of a terrorist organisation.
Voters have shown that they are hungry to overcome the divisions of the past and look instead to the future. This progressive outlook is undoubtedly favourable.
Sinn Fein’s achievements in the election should therefore be celebrated as a win for democracy. They have crushed a duopoly, expanded voters’ choice, inspired youth political involvement and presented sensible policies to combat domestic issues that were neglected by the former government. Most importantly however, Sinn Fein’s success accentuates that there is a desire in Ireland to move beyond its knotted past. It is this dawn of progression that everyone should herald in, regardless of political persuasion.
Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mary_Lou_McDonald_TD_(49456003991).jpg