Mary Lou McDonald

Irish General Election: A Resounding Defeat for Anti-Immigration Candidates

The remarkable success enjoyed by Sinn Fein in this month’s general election was something of a watershed moment in Irish politics.

Winning both the highest number of first-preference votes and 37 seats in total, the result was the party’s finest since it took its current form in 1970, and communicated a widespread dissatisfaction with the current two-party system.

Whether Sinn Fein will form part of the next government remains to be seen. Parliamentary arithmetic means that, even with the help of other parties, the creation of a working majority will be difficult. However, many commentators feel that this is merely the start of a seismic reconfiguration of the political landscape.

Sinn Fein has transformed itself in recent years. Under the leadership of Dubliner Mary Lou McDonald, the party is free from much of the paramilitary baggage that stymied its progress previously. During ‘The Troubles’, Sinn Fein was viewed as ‘the political wing of the IRA’, an association that has deterred voters on both sides of the border. However, with the Irish electorate keen to move on from the violence of the past, the party has been able to redesign its public image.

Long regarded as a single-issue organisation campaigning for Irish unity, the party now campaigns on a plethora of issues. It is increasingly perceived as a viable, left-wing alternative to the two historically dominant parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

In the words of Mary Lou herself:

‘The two-party system in this country is now broken, it has been sent to the history books’

Sinn Fein’s support has been particularly strong amongst younger generations- polls suggest that they lead among all sections of the electorate under 65.

Mary Lou McDonald has breathed new life into the party. [Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire]

The centre-right, pro-business approach of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael has been rejected by the electorate. Ireland has experienced an economic resurgence of late, but much of the population feel systematically excluded from this return to prosperity. Sinn Fein has capitalised on this, galvanising younger voters with their pledges to freeze rent increases and embark on ‘the biggest house building programme in the history of the state’.

Under the leadership of Dubliner Mary Lou McDonald, the party is free from much of the paramilitary baggage that stymied its progress previously.

In the words of Jonathan Evershed, a researcher at University College Cork and Queen’s University Belfast:

‘We have a cohort of younger voters who vote on issues rather than parties … They have obviously identified Sinn Féin’s message on that issue as something to rally behind’

Sinn Fein’s success is by far the most notable outcome of the election. It signifies a leftwards shift in Irish politics and a disillusionment with the status quo.

But a further notable theme is the abysmal performance of right-wing, anti-immigration candidates. Despite around 30 individuals campaigning on a far-right platform across Ireland, only a miniscule portion of the overall vote was captured.

This is hugely reassuring. With right-wing politics coming to the fore in both the UK and USA of late, the Irish electorate have refused to be won over by xenophobic, divisive rhetoric. Not a single anti-immigration candidate polled highly enough to get their expenses back. The National Party- one of the furthest right parties in Ireland- failed miserably. Their greatest performance came from their deputy leader, who secured just 1.74% of the vote in Longford-Westmeath.

Sinn Fein’s success is by far the most notable outcome of the election. It signifies a leftwards shift in Irish politics and a disillusionment with the status quo.

Similarly, the Irish Freedom Party- founded in 2018- put 10 candidates forward. The maximum vote share gained was 2.06%.

One of the most high-profile right-wing candidates was conspiracy theorist Gemma O’Doherty, who only managed 1.97% of the vote in Fingal. Her failure was not well-received. After the result was announced, she tweeted:

‘The Irish of #Fingal have voted once again for their own extinction.’

Ireland is proof that a country can undergo hard times economically without making immigrants the scapegoat. Whereas in the UK immigration is painted as the source of all social and economic ills, in Ireland, it was the least important issue in deciding the public’s vote.

Immigration was the joint-least important issue in deciding the public vote. [Image: RTE]

It is also reassuring to hear political parties discussing immigration in a progressive and tolerant manner. Sinn Fein’s manifesto stresses that it is crucial to avoid the ‘failed policies that have fostered resentments and tensions in other countries.’

Despite a global uptick in support for reactionary, right-wing politics, Ireland’s path is- as it stands- different.

This is discussed by Dr Natasha Dromey, who states that:

‘For now at least Ireland is not likely to be impacted too much by this (rise in anti-immigrant sentiment) in the large-scale political sense.’

‘far-right parties have not established themselves as any real alternative to the system, and their narrative offers little in terms of fixing the problems that the general public see as being the most significant.’

[Header Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire]

Written by
Cameron Boyle
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