Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Provisional IRA, is now the most popular party in Ireland. A party once considered so toxic that the voices of its members, including party leader Gerry Adams, were barred by law from television and radio broadcasts have emerged with huge gains in the local and European elections last month to claim the top spot in an opinion poll published on Saturday.
More, the poll shows that one in four voters think Sinn Fein has the most credible economic policies, a higher rating than achieved by any other party. To make the point how “astonishing” the Irish establishment finds this, the leading Sunday newspaper has illustrated the poll findings with a photograph of Gerry Adams with Fidel Castro.
The Millward Brown poll for the Irish Independent shows the rating of the party at 26 per cent, while Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the two parties which have dominated Irish politics since the establishment of the state in 1922, are trailing at 20 per cent each.
The Labour party, which is the junior partner in a coalition government led by Fine Gael, was wiped out in last month’s elections by a combination of Sinn Fein candidates and a wave of independents.
The opinion poll gives Labour a rating of just five per cent, down from 19 per cent in the last election in 2011, while the various independents rate a total of 26 per cent.
At these levels, Sinn Fein and independents could form a majority at the next election.
The Sinn Fein and independents’ surge came from voter anger at the relentless economic suffering inflicted on Ireland since the banking crisis.
The poll shows satisfaction with the Government at its lowest level ever with nearly four in five unhappy with the way the Fine Gael-Labour coalition is running the country.
Many voters remain furious that politicians from all three legacy parties have submitted to demands by the EU that taxpayers shoulder the full burden of the losses of investors in private Irish banks in order to “save the euro.”
The so-called “rescue” by the EU and IMF has left Ireland with a debt of €67.5bn (£55bn), raising the 2013 debt to GDP level to 124 per cent. In 2008 the Irish debt to GDP level was just 25 per cent, lower than Germany’s.
Sinn Fein has been the only party in the Dail, the lower house of the Irish parliament, to attack the EU demands which have left Ireland with an unemployment rate that at the worst touched 15 per cent, caused the economic devastation of small and medium enterprises, burdened working people with high taxes and which has led to a level of emigration running from 80,000 to 90,000 a year from a population of just 4.5m.
In the elections to the European Parliament, Sinn Fein took three of Ireland’s 11 seats, independents took three, Labour took none, Fianna Fail, always the largest party in the state until the economy collapsed under the last Fianna Fail government, took just one, while Fine Gael took four.
However, despite what looks like a success for Fine Gael in the elections, as economic commentator Dan O’Brien points out:
“The findings of the poll are worse for Fine Gael than for Labour. That so many voters, including the higher-earning ‘ABC1s’, believe it is the party most likely to increase personal taxation is doubly damaging.”
“Not only does this suggest that Fine Gael is alienating its natural constituency, but it leaves the senior partner in Coalition particularly vulnerable to the emergence of a new party advocating relief for medium and higher income earners who pay Scandinavian levels of tax while not receiving anything like the quality and quantity of services their Nordic counterparts enjoy.”
Sinn Fein’s policies can be described as populist-left. Yet its 37-year-old economic spokesman Pearse Doherty, one of the new generation of Sinn Fein politicians who are too young to have been tainted by the Provisional IRA’s war in the north of Ireland, has been attacking the European Central Bank and the EU-imposed controls on the Irish economy in a way that would leave British eurosceptics in mystified agreement.
Sinn Fein’s rise to 26 per cent is up from 10 per cent it achieved in the last general election.
As O’Brien puts it, Sinn Fein is “sitting pretty.”