Fintan O’Toole: It is time for Sinn Féin to come in from the cold

A real democratic alternative has to include the biggest party of radical change

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and party members at a press conference in Dublin on Sunday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and party members at a press conference in Dublin on Sunday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

There can be no progressive government in Ireland without Sinn Féin. That is not a value judgment. It is merely a fact that anyone who wants to see radical change on the four great issues of housing, healthcare, climate change and child poverty has to face. If the polls are even vaguely right, Sinn Féin will be the overwhelmingly dominant force on the Irish left. To treat it as a political pariah is, in effect, to deny any serious possibility of breaking the duopoly that has created the status quo. This is an uncomfortable reality for many of us. But it is undeniable: to keep Sinn Féin out in the cold is to keep Irish politics frozen in its all-too-familiar postures.

In a sense, the decision on whether to bring Sinn Féin in from the margins of politics in the Republic has already been made. It was made in 2011 and it was made by the Labour Party. Labour’s decision to take office and implement an austerity programme that, for example, doubled child poverty, had an entirely predictable (and predicted) result: Sinn Féin would occupy the space where a traditional social democratic party should be. I think that was a terrible decision but so what? It happened, it had consequences and those consequences are now with us.

The Irish Times
Please subscribe or sign in to continue reading.
The Irish Times

How can I keep reading?

You’ve reached an article that is only available to Irish Times subscribers.

Subscribe today and get the full picture for just €1 for the first month.

Subscribe No obligation, cancel any time.