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Migration the one clear difference between Sinn Féin’s last two European election manifestos

Political observers believe the party has hardened its position on migration due to pressure from elements of its voter base

When comparing Sinn Féin’s latest European election manifesto with its 2019 offering, one clear difference stands out: migration.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald launched the 2024 document in Dublin on Thursday and fielded several questions from journalists about immigration. Sinn Féin has come under scrunity of late over its position on the issue, with political observers believing it (and also the Government) has hardened its position due to pressure from elements of its voter base.

In 2019′s manifesto there was no mention of refugees, asylum seekers or international protection. This time around Sinn Féin outlines its intentions.

Firstly, the party calls for a “fair, efficient and enforced migration system” for Ireland. It wants to speed up decisions on asylum applications and enforcement “to ensure the safe return of failed applicants to their country of origin”. It wants to see that EU nationals who are “engaged in serious criminal activity or who pose a risk to public safety here due to their criminal record can be removed to their home country”.

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The first sign of Sinn Féin toughening its stance on immigration came late last year when McDonald told the Irish Daily Mail it was a mistake to grant Ukrainian refugees special status in Ireland following the Russian invasion. However, she had, during a Dáil debate in March 2022, commended the work done by the Government as new supports specific to Ukrainians were discussed.

She doubled down on this thinking on Thursday, saying: “We said from the get-go that just as there shouldn’t be a double standard around how the world views the war in Ukraine and the suffering of the Palestinian people, equally there shouldn’t be a double standard around people who come here seeking refuge wherever they come from.”

She added: “I think a lot of people share that view. You can’t have one rule for one, and another rule for another. That doesn’t sit well. That’s been our position.”

In the manifesto Sinn Féin says “Ireland’s own immigration laws” should apply “once the special status of Ukrainians under the Temporary Protection Directive expires in March 2025”.

The party’s general position on immigration now is that it does not support “open borders” – despite McDonald saying in an RTÉ interview in February that there is “no such thing” as open borders in Ireland. It is not fair to characterise the position as a policy shift, however.

In its 2020 general election manifesto, Sinn Féin said it “does not want open borders” and believes that “all states must manage migration”. As the party prepares for the next general election – and potentially entering government – the bigger question is how it plans to deal with the reality of increased global migration.

The answer is not clear. When asked on Thursday what her party would do differently in relation to the existing international protection system, McDonald said resources in the International Protection Office should be doubled, but she did not outline any policy changes beyond wanting a “fair, enforced and efficient” system.

She also called for a “conversation” and “plan” for accommodation when the Temporary Protection Directive comes to an end next March. “For now we are in a war situation and the worst position you can be in is having no plan,” she said.

Beyond migration much of what Sinn Féin is promising in its EU manifesto now is similar to what went before: a push for Irish unity, reforming the EU, defending Irish neutrality and reforming the Common Fisheries Policy. Its plans to cut “the bloated salaries of Commissioners, MEPs, and other top EU bureaucrats” did not feature in the 2019 document.