Sinn Fein, the political wing of the terrorist Provisional IRA, is emerging as “the kingpin” of Irish politics, according to the latest opinion poll taken in the run-up to the elections to the European Parliament.
The party, once considered so toxic that both the BBC and the state-owned Irish broadcaster RTE barred the voices of Sinn Fein politicians from all programmes, now looks set to humiliate Dublin’s coalition centre right-socialist government and take three of the 11 Irish seats in the European Parliament. Labour, the junior coalition partner, is in danger of being shut out entirely.
Ireland has no eurosceptic party, but Sinn Fein is riding a wave of anti-government and anti-European Union sentiment.
While Gerry Adams – the veteran party leader who has always denied membership of the Provisional IRA (the Provos) remains head of Sinn Fein, the party’s popularity has been driven by a new generation of younger politicians.
They uphold the Sinn Fein and Provisional IRA principle of the re-unification of Ireland, but are too young to have been involved in the 30-year anti-British terrorist war in the north of the country.
Moreover, the appearance of 63-year old Martin McGuinness, a former Provo gunman who is now Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, toasting the Queen at Windsor Castle during the state visit of the President of Ireland earlier this month has completed the “re-branding” of the party.
The most influential among the younger Sinn Fein generation has been 46-year old Pearse Doherty, the party’s finance spokesman. He has made his mark in the Dail, the Irish legislature’s lower chamber, arguing against the €64bn bank bail-out which the European Union institutions forced the previous Government to take in 2010 in order to protect the euro currency.
This has left the 4.6m population of Ireland with a debt burden of 122 per cent of GDP, the highest in the EU after Greece, Italy and Portugal. Unemployment touched nearly 15 per cent before falling now to 11.9 per cent. However, the high emigration level of young educated workers to Britain, America and Australia has kept the unemployment levels artificially low.
Unlike the earlier generation, Doherty does not talk about “armed struggle.” Instead he debates capital shortfalls, government failure to find a solution to widespread mortgage arrears and failures by the Finance Minister in economic and financial policy.
He has been relentlessly critical of what the European Central Bank and the European Commission have done to the Irish people while the other parties continue to insist that the EU ‘saved’ Ireland during the financial crisis.
Doherty’s attacks on the Government because of its capitulation to the demands of Brussels has won the support of voters who, ten years ago, would never have considered supporting any party associated with Ireland’s most deadly terrorist group.
His political impact may be felt most strongly in the Dublin constituency, where Brian Hayes, the Government’s junior finance spokesman, was an early favourite to take the first seat in the three-seat constituency. Now the latest poll shows Hayes, a member of the dominate Government party the centre-right Fine Gael, may be pushed out even from the last seat, losing to Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan. She is at topping the opinion poll at 20 per cent, despite having no legislative experience.
It is likely Sinn Fein MEPs will sit in the European Parliament with the hard-left group, the European United Left-Nordic Green Left, which includes members from Germany’s Die Linke (“The Left”), a party formed in part from the remnants of the Communist party which ruled East Germany before the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
The opinion poll was taken for the Independent Newspaper Group by Millward Brown (www.independent.ie).