Sinn Fein comes of age in Irish politics
The Irish general elections may be too close to call but it is clear that Sinn Fein will emerge as the kingmaker or governing partner once final numbers are declared. The rise of the outfit with strong links to the militant Irish Republican Army (that it has denied) is not what the pundits had predicted, nor is it the ideal electoral result in a country where suspicions linger decades after the end of the civil war. This leaves Fine Gael, the ruling party of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in the lurch after the premier earlier said Sinn Fein's role in violent attacks and its tax plans would make it his least favourite partner in government. Now that the situation demands a coalition government be formed, Varadkar may find his negotiating position weakened. The other opposition party Fianna Fáil, led by Micheal Martin, though open to talks with the PM's party, is concerned about incompatibilities between the two if they were to come together to keep Sinn Fein out. The election result, however, is a landmark shift in Irish politics that indicates that the people are open to giving a larger political role to Sinn Fein whose leader Mary Lou McDonald has said this is "something of a revolution in the ballot box". The voters have sent out a message that now is the time to make a new start. However, Sinn Fein's militant past remains a stumbling block for the two mainstream parties. But this is a coming of age for a militant movement that appears to be seen as turning over a new political leaf. From freedom fighters to terrorists and finally to a political organisation is a natural progression in democracy. Sinn Fein has made use of the opportunity to rebrand itself for electoral gains.
The party fielded only 42 candidates for 160 seats in the Dail (Parliament), but they won 29 seats. This could make them a likely partner in government if talks between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael run into rough weather. Sinn Fein has fierce nationalistic and unionist credentials. Calls for a united Ireland and Northern Ireland could be revived, something which London should be wary about. In the final analysis, Ireland now has a three-party system. Sinn Fein is the most popular political outfit in the country with 24.5 per cent of the vote share. And they could make or break a government for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.