SF prepares for government where compromises await

Analysis: party will gain seats in next election, although perhaps fewer than polls suggest

A man dressed as a pikeman from the 1798 rebellion during the annual Sinn Fein Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown, Co Kildare last weekend. Photograph: PA

A man dressed as a pikeman from the 1798 rebellion during the annual Sinn Fein Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown, Co Kildare last weekend. Photograph: PA

Mon, Jun 23, 2014, 15:53

Gerry Adams confirmed over the weekend Sinn Féin is now thinking 2016 (at the latest) may be the year it makes a historic journey and considers entering government in the south.

The issue arose at the party’s special conference over the weekend convened for its new councillors and MEPs came together for the first time to hear Adams describe the party’s medium-term strategy.

When the next general election takes place - and it could be at the tail-end of next year - it’s a racing certainty Sinn Féin will make big gains on its current standing of 14 seats.

But the gains might not be as spectacular as its opinion poll showings suggest.

Voters look in incredible detail on what parties promise on bread-and-butter issues in general election and on some policy areas Sinn Féin falls far short of giving reassurance that they know what they are doing.

Of the party’s current crop of 14, they have a few stand-out performers but at least half of their TDs are pedestrian, and one or two have made minimal impact since elected.

That said, the Adams speech is important because it has committed the party to a particular approach.

There was a school of thought that Sinn Féin might opt for another period in opposition and bide its time.

The basis for that was: the only real likely options for government would be a grand coalition (Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil) or a continuation of the present coalition.

Joan Burton supporters, among others, think this is a possibility.

That could lead to a scenario where Sinn Féin established itself as the biggest party in opposition, eclipsing either Fianna Fáil or Labour - putting itself in position to be the dominant, or determinant, party of any coalition.

But that scenario presumes that things won’t change and the world will stop revolving on its axis. If the economy recovers, gains for a party in opposition (and a protest party particularly) will quickly dilute from solid to marginal.

When you move beyond the rhetoric, the gist of Adams’s message is that it’s time for the party to prepare for government.

“For our part Sinn Féin needs to be ready for government in this State on our terms, agree our policy priorities and political platform. Our commitments need to be deliverable. We are ambitious for change and believe we can deliver on jobs, housing and health,” he said.

While Adams sought to reprise that message on broadcast media today, his experience on Morning Ireland shows that happens when the party is pressurised to make its position clear.

Adams was asked about the party’s core principles and what policies would not be compromised?

One of those was, of course, Irish unity. We will return that presently.

But the only commitment that Adams was prepared to make the removal of the property a condition of entering a coalition.

When it came to the party’s pledge to impose a 48 per cent tax on anybody earning over €100,000 there was a bit of dancing around the ring.

Under repeated questioning Adams eventually said Sinn Féin has not settled on the issue, and that this along with many other areas, will be the subject of internal discussion.

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