Daniel McConnell: Sinn Féin's rise in 2020 was no false dawn, as support continues to grow

The party has delivered on its promise and since then, its support has not only consolidated but has continued to grow
Daniel McConnell: Sinn Féin's rise in 2020 was no false dawn, as support continues to grow

Mary Lou McDonald. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sixteen months on from General Election 2020 and almost a year on from the formation of the Government, a couple of things are clear.

Firstly, the rise of Sinn Féin as witnessed in that election was no mirage or false dawn. The party had delivered on its promise and since then, its support has not only consolidated but has continued to grow.

Secondly, after a most turbulent start to government, Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach Micheál Martin are finally beginning to see some reward for their efforts.

The latest opinion poll conducted by Ipsos/MRBI for the Irish Times shows Sinn Féin, led by Mary Lou McDonald, is realising the potential she promised while she was deputy leader.

A record-high rating of 31%, up from 28% in February, is a statement in itself. That the party finds itself as the most popular party in Ireland across several different opinion polls, is illustrative of an established trend.

A second poll, carried by the Sunday Times earlier this week, had Sinn Féin in an even more commanding lead.

Examining the demographic results from this Irish Times poll, it is clear Sinn Féin support is no longer limited to young people or the working classes.

Middle-class voters, young and old, urban and rural are, in increasing numbers, looking to them as their preferred choice to run the country.

Of most concern to both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is the situation in Dublin.

Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald. File picture: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie
Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald. File picture: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie

Sinn Féin on 34%, occupies a commanding lead over Leo Varadkar’s party on 27%, where not too long ago Fine Gael had the capital locked up.

Fianna Fáil’s woes in Dublin continue as the party finds itself on just 15%.

All of these numbers are more relevant as the by-election campaign to fill the seat vacated by former Fine Gael minister Eoghan Murphy has kicked off in earnest.

A short three-week campaign does offer little opportunity to any of the other players in the race to stop it being a two-horse affair between James Geoghegan of Fine Gael and Lynn Boylan of Sinn Féin.

The poll findings in Dublin would also appear to put paid to any suggestion that Labour’s Ivana Bacik is in the mix.

Requiring 51% of the vote to succeed, with her party languishing on 3% nationally and just 7% in Dublin, it would certainly seem like a bridge too far.

Such is the concern in Fine Gael about Sinn Féin, its entire pitch during the press conference to launch Geoghegan’s campaign was to paint him and Fine Gael as the anti-Sinn Féin alternative.

'Morale booster'

Despite its woes in Dublin, the latest Irish Times poll will be a welcome reprieve for Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil.

“It is a morale booster after a year of crap,” was the response from one senior party figure after the poll’s publication.

For Martin, the improvement in the party’s rating from 14% to 20% and his own personal satisfaction rating are undoubtedly linked to the successful rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines.

This is also reflected in the sharp improvement in the satisfaction rating of the Government, up 10 points to 53% as well as a 70% approval rating when it comes to its handling of the pandemic. This is up from 45% in February.

One interesting facet of the poll is that it is Mr Martin and Fianna Fáil, and not Mr Varadkar and Fine Gael, who have been the beneficiaries of any sort of vaccine bounce.

'It is a morale booster after a year of crap,' was the response from one senior party figure after the poll’s publication.
'It is a morale booster after a year of crap,' was the response from one senior party figure after the poll’s publication.

For the smaller parties and independents, the poll will bring little cheer.

For the Green Party, Labour, the Social Democrats and People Before Profit, their low opinion ratings are virtually static on the previous poll.

Eamon Ryan will have to be concerned the longer this Government goes on as to how much lower his party’s poll ratings go. He must be concerned that he is the least popular of any of the party leaders, with a satisfaction rating of just 26%, which is down nine on February.

Labour remains well down on its historic base level of 10%.

For all his hard work, leader Alan Kelly is seeing no reward in terms of his party’s ability to regrow its support base. The party continues to pay a heavy price for its term in government between 2011 and 2016.

For independents and others, the news is even worse, with both groupings of non-party TDs suffering a serious setback in this poll. A collective independent vote of 32% in the February poll has been slashed to just 21%.

Overall, this poll tells us the rise of Sinn Féin continues and the party’s support base is more robust and more consistent than it ever has been. On this trajectory, it not only can hope to win in Dublin Bay South on July 8 but can aspire to be lead party in government after the next election.

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