In the past 15 months or so, Sinn Féin’s support has continued to grow in the polls and crucially, it has been able to sustain this support in recent polls following its best ever election in February 2020, when it took 37 seats and won the highest percentage of first preference votes at 24.5%. However, it won a smaller proportion of seats, as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ran more candidates. In hindsight, Sinn Féin could have won a much larger proportion of seats, if it had run more candidates.
Following the results of the election, Sinn Féin tried to pursue an alternative Government led by parties of the left. However, Labour quickly ruled out going into Government with Sinn Féin. From the start, it appeared unlikely that a left-led Government was ever a possibility, as they did not have the numbers to form a majority in the Dáil. As political developments continued, it became ever clearer that Sinn Féin would not be in Government, as both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil consistently ruled out serving in Government with Sinn Féin. The viable Government, it appeared, was a historical coalition involving Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, along with the Green Party. Following negotiations, a Programme for Government was unanimously agreed by memberships of the three parties in June 2020.
Whilst these negotiations were ongoing and once the Programme for Government was agreed, despite a huge bounce in public support for Fine Gael due to the public mobilising behind the caretaker Government that was in power, Sinn Féin continued to grow in strength in RED C/Sunday Business Post polling. In the first RED C/Sunday Business Post poll released after the February 2020 election, Sinn Féin support was at 28%, whilst Fine Gael’s support increased heavily due to the mobilising of the public behind the Fine Gael Government, as they stood on 34%, while the decline of Fianna Fáil began as it lay on 18%.
Meanwhile, as Fine Gael maintained its lead over Sinn Féin in RED C/Sunday Business Post polls throughout the summer months, towards October 2020, its support grew over Sinn Féin as it stood on 37%, compared to 27% for Sinn Féin and 11% for Fianna Fáil. However, as public dismay grew with the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, in November 2020, Fine Gael’s support dropped to 33%, whilst Sinn Féin grew to 30% and Fianna Fáil increased to 12%.
In the first poll held in 2021, in January, Fine Gael’s support fell further as it was on 29%, compared to Sinn Féin, whose support also fell, but was on 27%, while Fianna Fáil experienced an increase in support to 16%. Then, 12 months on from the last general election, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin were level on 29%, as Fianna Fáil’s support fell to 13%.
However, in March 2021, Fine Gael pulled a one percent lead on Sinn Féin as it increased its support to 30%. Meanwhile, in the most recent RED C/Sunday Business Post poll, in April 2021, Fine Gael’s support remained on 30%, whilst Sinn Féin was on 27% and Fianna Fáil was on 13%. The main conclusion that we can draw from these polls is that there is likely to be a close contest between Sinn Féin and Fine Gael ahead of the next general election, whilst Fianna Fáil could be the kingmakers in playing a role as a junior coalition partner, with a potential new leader in sight. In the most recent Ireland Thinks/Mail on Sunday poll, which was released on the 15th of May, Sinn Féin’s support grew to 30%, with Fine Gael on 25% and Fianna Fáil on 15%.
This raises the question over whether Sinn Féin will continue to grow or if it will remain static or perhaps even lose support. It is likely that Sinn Féin will be able to sustain its support, as there is widespread anger with the current Government’s handling of the housing crisis, as well as its treatment of so-called ‘cuckoo funds’ and REITs.
If Sinn Féin is able to either sustain or continue to grow its support, then there is an excellent chance that Sinn Féin will be in Government over the coming decade. Whether this is with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, or whether it can have the numbers to lead a historic Government of the left, remains to be seen.
It is likely that, if the establishment parties continue to rule out Sinn Féin from Government, then support for Sinn Féin will continue to increase and the opposite will be true for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. The real challenge for the current Government will be how the country emerges out of the Covid-19 pandemic and returns to some sort of normality. The Government must ensure that the Covid-19 recovery is equal and benefits as many people as possible
There are several ideas the Government may consider. It could introduce measures which would provide for a living wage of at least €12.50 per hour, introduce a universal basic home, set a timeline for holding a referendum on insert the right to housing in the constitution as a human right, as well as water to be in public ownership. The Government must lead the biggest public housing programme in the country, increase supports for private renters and ensure that private landlords cannot evict tenants for questionable reasons.
Further, following on from the Debenhams dispute, the Government must learn its lessons from the plight of the Debenhams workers. It must introduce legislation that protects workers from jobs lost through no fault of their own, such as liquidation of their employer and enhancing worker’s rights. By enacting measures such as those suggested, it will ensure that the Government is able to deal with the issues that are most prevalent in Ireland. However, whether this will halt Sinn Féin’s growing popularity remains to be seen.