31 January 2002 Edition
Sinn Féin sets the pace
Poll results will spur activists and scare opponents
Sinn Féin workers, activists, party members and voters throughout the island can this week take heart. The MRBI/Irish Times opinion poll results will have been an encouraging sign for Sinn Féin activists across the island. Sinn Féin was the only party that showed a growth in voter support.
Sinn Féin is the defining issue in Irish politics today. Efforts on the ground are bearing fruit. More and more people are recognising the benefits of the party's radical economic, social and political agenda. Through republicans' work for a just and inclusive Ireland, the status quo is being undermined and the establishment is running scared.
The hard work of canvassing, campaigning and providing effective local representation is not just filling the void left by the establishment parties in Irish political life today. It is also swinging public opinion away from the tired and increasingly meaningless politics of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats.
It is undermining the politics of winning and holding onto power for its own sake. We will replace it with an agenda for sharing wealth and building an Ireland of equals.
The coming months are crucial; the other political parties and the institutions they represent will try to undermine our efforts at every stage. But the campaign of disinformation run against Sinn Féin since the successes in last year's Westminster and local elections as well the Nice referendum victory is clearly failing.
By redoubling our efforts in the run up to the May election, we can give ourselves every chance of making real the worst fears of the establishment and in the process advance our progress towards a United Ireland.
Sinn Féin is the political issue
SF set to match Labour in Dublin
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
Sinn Féin is winning increasing support from young and first time voters who are not buying into the Coca Cola/Pepsi politics of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. They are rebelling against the numbing passivity peddled by the other parties
It must be clear to Sinn Féin voters and activists after last Friday's Irish Times/MRBI poll that their party and their political work on the ground around the island has become the defining political issue of the new decade.
The reports that Sinn Féin alone had grown in electoral support of all political parties was the major news event of last weekend, as reporters, columnists and news bulletins on radio and television all devoted substantial air time and column inches to discussing and analysing the Sinn Féin vote.
In the case of Independent News and Media, it meant launching yet another barrage of bitter and error filled attacks on Sinn Féin.
Perhaps the most overlooked part of the poll findings was that, in the crucial Dublin district which comprises 12 constituencies, Sinn Féin at 8% is set to match Labour, who on just 9% in the capital.
Mary Harney, meanwhile, claimed that she did not believe that Sinn Feein, "a party still associated with the provisional IRA", would make electoral gains. Harney said that she would be "surprised and disappointed" if a large number of people voted Sinn Féin.
What the poll said
The MRBI poll showed support for Sinn Féin up 3% from the last survey in May 2001 to 8%. For the first time ever, Sinn Féin was included in questions about how well party leaders were doing their jobs. Party president Gerry Adams had at 56% the second highest satisfaction rating.
Voter support for Fianna Fáil was down 1% to 41%, Fine Gael were down 3% to 21%, Labour were also down 1% to 11% while the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party were unchanged at 3% and 5% respectively.
In the crucial Dublin area, Sinn Féin was registering 8% of first preferences, with 13% of the 18-24 age group and 8% in the 25-34 age group. In both these voting groups, the party was substantially ahead of Labour, while just 1% behind Labour in total voter support in the region.
Satisfaction ratings for Mary Harney, Michael Noonan and Ruairi Quinn had all dropped in the poll. Satisfaction for the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat coalition fell by 10% to 52%.
What the media said about the poll and Sinn Féin
Ian McShane, managing director of MRBI, who conducted last week's poll, believes that, "the party would almost be certain to increase its Dáil representation". McShane also argues that Sinn Féin's "Achilles heel may yet prove to be the degree to which its support relies on the younger voter, that section of the electorate least likely to actually turn out on election day".
Mark Brennock, writing in the Irish Times, declared that, "On this figure it (Sinn Féin) could win a half dozen seats".
Another Times writer, Breda O'Brien, writing two days after the poll, said that "given that much of the mainstream media was deeply hostile to Sinn Féin and still is, it is an extraordinary achievment".
Even in the Irish Independent, there was a recognition of the swing to Sinn Féin. "Sinn Féin are doing remarkably well in the opinion polls", declared Bruce Arnold.
A headline inside the same day's paper proclaimed, "Poll says SF could take up to 11 seats".
However, according to one of the two Labour candidates in Dublin South Central and former Workers party TD, Eric Byrne, these were overoptimistic forecasts. Byrne said: "Expectations won't be fulfilled. It is one thing to say that you'll vote for them. It is another to get out of bed and actually do it."
Mark Hennessy wrote in the Times that "younger voters will hold the key to Sinn Féin's general election performance if they can be encouraged to get out and vote on polling day".
The Sunday Tribune's Shane Coleman wrote that "the party is firmly on course to win at least two extra seats in the general election, with some pundits predicting that there could be a total of six Sinn Féin deputies".
In the same paper, Stephen Collins wote: "If Sinn Féin make a substantial breakthrough, then it could have well be the most significant election in decades."
Also in the seat prediction game was Brian Dowling in the Sunday Times, who wrote that "the 8% support registered for Gerry Adams' party could conceivably translate into 10 or 12 seats come election day".
Then there was the Sunday Independent, with an Alan Ruddock article headlined "A vote wasted and our state at risk". Ruddock wrote: "They (Fianna Fáil and Labour) must expose the poverty of thought that informs Sinn Féin's political thinking and they must make the point relentlessly that a vote for Sinn Féin is a vote wasted: otherwise, much of what we stand for will be."
Eilis O'Hanlon moaned about what she described as Sinn Féin's "cheap populism" and "protest politics for beginners".
The Sunday Business Post didn't seem to have the same fear factor as their Indo rivals. Political editor Maol Muire Tynan said that Sinn Féin "appear more interested in gradually consolidating an electoral base in the general election rather than gaining a flattering but ephemeral surge of voter approval".
What the poll really meant
Fianna Fáil were the only establishment party to take solace out of the MRBI poll. Though the survey showed a drop in overall voter support to 41%, the satisfaction rating for party leader Bertie Ahern rose to 68%.
These results, coming in the dying months of a five-year coalition government that is presiding over an economy in recession with critical infrastructural and services problems, must be seen as a success.
Bertie Ahern's buoyancy in the polls is driven by the quality of opposition. Michael Noonan is even further behind in the polls than Bruton was when he was ditched by the party after an MRBI survey this time last year.
Between now and May, Fianna Fáil will hit us with weekly feelgood announcements. Last week's announcements of new beds by Health minister Mícheál Martin that had funnily enough already been announced by Charlie McCreevy is just one example of what is to come.
Underlying all of this is a much more important trend. Why is it there such a divergence in the poll surveys with a song growth for Sinn Féin at one end and a nearly unchanged Fianna Fail at the other.
The uncommented on trend is that Ahern and Fianna Fáil are depending on the vast bulk of the electorate to be passive with their political vista confined to picking who they think will be the best manager of the economy. Fine Gael have clearly bought into this, with Noonan claiming that he can knock 10% off the government satisfaction rating.
Sinn Féin on the other hand is winning increasing support from young and first time voters who are not buying into the Coca Cola/Pepsi politics of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
The Sinn Féin voters are rebelling against the numbing passivity being peddled by the other parties. The fact that Sinn Féin activists are on the ground working daily in over 20 Leinster House constituencies is, it seems, cracking the mould of not just establishment politics, but ultimately the political elite's grip on power itself.