Sinn Féin puts self-interest first

Left-wing voting pact

 

The alacrity with which Sinn Féin announced its support for a voting pact involving Independents and left-wing parties reflected the benefits party strategists anticipated could flow to them from such an arrangement. The development was also seen as helpful in that it served to distract attention from reports by British and Irish security services concerning the continued existence and influence of the Provisional IRA.

The designers of this political platform, Right2Change, a group of trade union activists from Unite, the Communications Workers’ Union, the Civil Public and Services Union and Mandate, have been working for months on a specific economic programme including the abolition of water charges, a doubling of public investment and higher taxes on wealth and capital. Participants would support a voting transfer pact and were given until next Friday to signal acceptance.

By grabbing the initiative and proposing the transfer of preferential votes to like-minded parties and individuals, even if they did not reciprocate, Sinn Féin took the high ground. Attracting transfers has been a particular difficulty for the party and, as its core support diminished in recent months, Independents and Others remained strong. Securing a portion of that vote through transfers could make the difference between a good and a great election result. Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald declared it would be “unforgivable” for other left-wing parties not to join the pact and to “make things happen” for people within the State who wanted change.

In terms of planned government-formation, there is less to this than meets the eye. While the Right2Change group proposed a common economic programme for a left-wing government, Sinn Féin regards these goals as aims, rather than commitments. Confirming that her party will have its own, separate election manifesto, Ms McDonald supported the pact on the basis that it will maximise the number of progressive TDs in the next Dáil. For “progressive”, read “Sinn Féin”.

As parties angle for advantage, the ubiquitous political “split” is under way. Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy will not ask his supporters to transfer to Sinn Féin. His lead is likely to be followed by other left-wing TDs who find themselves under tremendous pressure in their constituencies. In spite of that, transfer arrangements may emerge at local level involving People Before Profit, Independents and the Socialist Party-Anti Austerity Alliance. In such a febrile situation, Labour Party leader Joan Burton may have been unwise to crow that “the pact was over before it began”.

Sinn Féin’s anxiety to present itself as a party of government follows the rejection of its credentials by both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, because of security reports. With an election approaching and events hanging fire at Stormont, the party’s activities amount to damage limitation.

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