‘Want to commit political hara kiri? Go into Government’

Analysis: A good election for Sinn Féin but the party could struggle to sustain the momentum

Labour Party Leader, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore pictured casting his vote at Scoil Mhuire, Shanganagh Rd, Shankill, Co Dublin. Photograph: Collins Agency

Labour Party Leader, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore pictured casting his vote at Scoil Mhuire, Shanganagh Rd, Shankill, Co Dublin. Photograph: Collins Agency

Sun, May 25, 2014, 07:37

The Irish writer Frank O’Connor was a great exponent of the type of short story where a life-changing event occurred.

In his amazing Guests of the Nation the change was so profound that it drove the narrator to say: “And anything that happened to me afterwards, I never felt the same about it again.”

The immediate (emotional) aftermath of elections sometimes evoke the same kind of sentiment.

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And none more so than Friday’s set of three elections, the results of which are being excruciatingly ground out over the course of this weekend.

Some pundits and commentators have made some rather grand and profound pronouncements about the significance of the elections, that it has changed life as we know it forever: and things will never be the same again.

Sure, it was great election for Sinn Féin. The party has had a strong performance in all three polls.

The only slight shadow on the horizon is in Midlands North West where Luke Ming Flanagan may steal Matt Carthy’s thunder, and also steal the seat with Sinn Féin’s name on it.

As Mary Lou McDonald pointed out to The Irish Times last night: “One swallow does not a summer make”.

It would be churlish for any party - not least a strategy-obsessed party like Sinn Féin - to assume that these results would hold up in a general election scenario. It certainly shows that party are on a long-term upward trajectory but it doesn’t necessarily mean the rise will be inevitable and inexorable as happened in the North. We will come back to that.

In contrast, Labour has had a weekend that disappointed even its (non-existent) expectations. It’s going to end up with no European seats, a possible halving of its 2009 haul of 138 seats on councils (despite an overall increase in seats numbers from 883 to 949) and will finish a distant also-ran in the two byelections (where its sitting TDs topped the poll in both constituencies in 2011).

It’s also been a very good week for independents and smaller parties. They have garnered almost 30 per cent of the vote and could very well return a brace of MEPs to Europe (with Luke Ming Flanagan being the stand-out winner).

The Greens, People Before Profit, and the Socialist Party have all done well - Ruth Coppinger has won the Dublin West byelection, all have made gains in Dublin councils, and Green leader Eamon Ryan may win a seat in Dublin today. It’s very hard to have a coherent body of independents - it’s a moot point as to whether their growing popularity is a symptom of a volatile and fragmented political landscape.

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