Sinn Féin must try and do a deal with other left parties
Party now has mandate and the allies to build public housing at heroic rate
Everywhere, Sinn Féin is selected by people disproportionately dissatisfied with Fine Gael. Photographer: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg
Sinn Féin feels it left seats behind by not fielding more candidates in this election. It has certainly changed Irish politics, at least interrupting the domination of the two civil war parties.
With only one Sinn Féin candidate in most constituencies there was little risk of vote-splitting. The party topped the poll in two-thirds of the constituencies, giving it a moral authority far beyond the 37 of 160 seats it has secured in the Dáil, or indeed its quarter-share of first-preference votes.
A range of parties and candidates will be grateful for the transfers of Sinn Féin votes surplus to quota, and Sinn Féin has been given a very clear view of the appetites of its supporters. The pattern of transfers from solo Sinn Féin candidates achieving their quota before other parties in their constituency is particularly interesting.
Sinn Féin knows that it drew significant support from folk happy to support left-wing candidates and who find both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil toxic
These are the cases where second choices for any other candidate would yet count (none having been eliminated or having already achieved quota) and where second choices could only be given to other parties. On this evidence, Sinn Féin is a home for voters who lean left. Everywhere, it is a party selected by people disproportionately dissatisfied with Fine Gael.
In 18 of 39 Irish constituencies, the single Sinn Féin candidate reached quota and was elected at the head of the poll and as the only candidate successful on the first count. In these 18 constituencies, the pattern of transfers shows the secondary allegiances of Sinn Féin voters.
Of the 993,405 votes cast here, 276,711 were for the single Sinn Féin candidate running. From these, 88,350 were surplus to quota and were thus re-allocated on the basis of the pattern of second choices of Sinn Féin voters.
In these 18 constituencies, Fine Gael received 25.5 per cent of all first-preference votes for candidates other than Sinn Féin. Its share of Sinn Féin transfers was 4.5 per cent.
There is, therefore, a clear difference between the preferences of Sinn Féin voters and those of their neighbours. Less marked but still clear is the attitude towards Fianna Fáil. Whereas 32.5 per cent of the voters other than those selecting Sinn Féin as a first preference in these 18 constituencies gave Fianna Fáil their first preference, the Sinn Féin voters gave Fianna Fáil their next preference in only 11.7 per cent of cases.
The two largest parties were rejected by Sinn Féin voters. Faced with a choice between the non-Sinn Féin parties, and compared to their neighbours, Sinn Féin first-preference voters were one-sixth as likely to choose Fine Gael, and about one-third as likely to choose Fianna Fáil.
The Green Party was also not a strong second-choice for Sinn Féin voters, and despite having 32.5 per cent of the non-Sinn Féin first preferences, it got only 10.4 per cent of the second preferences from the Sinn Féin voters. The allegiances of Sinn Féin voters went leftwards.
They were about nine-tenths as likely as their neighbours to favour Labour when given the choice between parties other than Sinn Féin, and 1.9 times as likely to favour the Social Democrats.
However, they were seven times as likely to vote for a socialist party (Independents for Change, People Before Profit, Rise/People Before Profit, Solidarity/People Before Profit, United People, Workers’ Party) for whereas their neighbours gave these parties 4.3 per cent of their first preferences, Sinn Féin voters gave them 32.5 per cent of their second preferences and this percentage voting Left rises to 42.1 per cent if we add in the second preferences given to the more evidently socialist among the Independents.
Elevated the Left vote
These Sinn Féin transfers elevated the Left vote. While they raised the Fine Gael total by only 1.8 per cent after Sinn Féin transfers were added to first preferences, and Fianna Fáil’s by 3.6 per cent, and the Greens by 3.4 per cent, Labour got a boost of 10 per cent and the Social Democrats received 23.1 per cent, but the socialist parties saw an increase equivalent to 94 per cent of their first preferences and the broader Left that includes some Independents had a gain equivalent to 71 per cent.
The Left did well out of its perceived affiliation with Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin also knows that it drew significant support from folk happy to support left-wing candidates and who find both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil toxic.
Now might be the time for Ireland to insist that making people homeless through eviction is immoral, and that people have a right to a home
The exit poll by Ipsos/MRBI for The Irish Times, RTÉ, TG4 and UCD found 31 per cent of its sample wanted radical change, and this was 53 per cent for Sinn Féin first-preference voters.
Voters expect change. Fewer than half of Sinn Féin voters had given the party support at the previous election (45 per cent) and, indeed, some 16 per cent of Sinn Féin voters had switched from Fine Gael and 11 per cent from Fianna Fáil.
Nationally health (32 per cent) and housing/homelessness (26 per cent) were the most important issues for voters. Of Sinn Féin voters, 38 per cent put housing/homelessness first, and 61 per cent of the Solidarity/People Before Profit voters placed it first.
Surplus public funds
Nationally, there is an appetite for public investment with 65 per cent thinking that any surplus public funds should be spent rather than passed back as tax cuts.
Now might be the time for Ireland to insist that making people homeless through eviction is immoral, and that people have a right to a home. Now might be the time to recognise that the free market has been given more than enough leeway and that now public investment in social housing is not only necessary but will be welcomed by voters.
The constitution does indeed, in Article 43, insist that no law should “abolish the right of private ownership”, but absent attempts to abolish the institution altogether, the constitution, in the same Article explicitly allows abridging property rights in light of “the principles of social justice” and to meet the “exigencies of the common good”.
Sinn Féin now has the mandate and the allies to build public housing at a heroic rate and, in the spirit of social justice and the common good, to face down the landlords in the Dáil or in the courts in order to do so.
Gerry Kearns is Professor of Geography at Maynooth University and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy