Fintan O'Toole: Voters have taken a bold gamble on normality

Behind the election’s radical result is a desire to make the Irish system ordinary

Candidates Dessie Ellis and Aengus O’Snodaigh of Sinn Féin celebrate their party’s success in the general election at the RDS count centre. Video: Bryan O’Brien

The election result is so sensational that it is easy to miss what is at the heart of it: a desire for normality. Like the American military spokesman in Vietnam who explained that they had destroyed a village in order to save it, voters have destroyed the familiar political system in an attempt to make it ordinary. They have confronted the two great anomalies of Irish politics: the half-in/half-out status of Sinn Féin and the duopoly of the Civil War parties. They have decided to get rid of both of them.

In the last week of the campaign, many politicians and commentators wasted their breath warning voters that Sinn Féin is not a normal political party. This was like telling them that it may rain in the west of Ireland. Of course Sinn Féin isn’t a normal political party – it has elements in its make-up of both cult and conspiracy. But Ireland isn’t a normal western European democracy. The island is still in recovery from a horrendous 30-year conflict in which Sinn Féin existed primarily as a support group for one of the world’s cruellest terrorist organisations.

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