Updated: Feb 10
The long anticipated General Election in the Republic of Ireland was held on Saturday 8th February and the exit polls have demonstrated that the supposed “Grand Coalition” between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael hasn’t delivered the grand results such a name would imply. The surge in popularity of the left in the form of Sinn Fein is representative of the failure of the “Grand Coalition” but also paints a depressing picture of the likelihood of change in the Republic.
Sinn Fein is a 32 county party but they have failed to wield the same power as they have in the Republic as they have done in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein, uncompromising nationalists and socialist in principle, have been integral in shaping policy and executing governance in Northern Ireland and it is for this reason that change in the Republic is unlikely. Sinn Fein have demonstrated an unwillingness and inability to be proactive, creative or even competent as they must share culpability in the RHI disaster.
The problems that face the Republic are serious. Home ownership is almost an unattainable goal while renting can eat a ridiculously high portion of an individual’s earnings. Homelessness is becoming more and more common while healthcare is prohibitively expensive with a simple GP visit costing 50 euro. In essence the cost of living is excessively high, the state is not providing basic services and the wages people earn aren’t sufficient to cover daily expenses.
Under the current economic model where there is an over reliance on large corporations to provide employment positions in return for meagre tax receipts it is unlikely that the state can provide a socialised health system or large scale social housing production without increasing government revenue.
There are two options to achieve this. Raising taxes is one method however In doing so, the relation with corporations may be damaged if corporation tax is increased, consequently affecting employment numbers. Although I would be curious to see how far business is pushed because Ireland is an attractive location for business especially in the wake of Brexit. Alternatively income tax could be raised but imposing another tax on workers struggling to make ends meet is stupid. Even then only a small amount of revenue would be generated for the government. Of course wealth is intrinsically linked to assets and they could theoretically be taxed but valuation of assets is tricky due to the market price valuation mechanism. The second and more politically fruitful is borrowing on international markets but that’s a slippery slope as 2008 demonstrates. Of course, cutting or reforming current government expenditure is an option but extremely unlikely given Sinn Fein are a socialist party. Furthermore, it is unlikely any cuts would increase government funds enough to cover large scale projects that Sinn Fein have expressed an interest in. Maybe there is another option that I am unaware off but either way it is a hard situation that requires serious ability to govern. Sinn Fein just doesn’t have that.
Serious governance requires competence, leadership and a willingness to operate in the best interest of each resident not just voters. Sinn Fein has demonstrated none of these abilities in their time in government in Northern Ireland. Regardless of why the Stormont executive collapsed in 2017 it is undeniable that the lack of an executive has damaged public services in Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein is culpable as much as other parties. They did not ultimately act in the best interest of the residents. Not only this, but they refuse to make the necessary changes to fix the mess they created regarding the NHS, instead choosing to fight the British government for more money. Furthermore, Sinn Fein has demonstrated utter corruption and inability to represent as they were aware of the RHI scheme at the very least.
If Sinn Fein do manage to govern in the Republic I would be surprised if anything substantial changes based on their performance in Northern Ireland. If the party achieves any change, I doubt that the trade-offs will be given a second thought.
I don’t think the exit polls are a cause for celebration because it is just another stage of the democratic cycle. Politicians make promises that can’t be delivered which will result in apathy toward politics allowing Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to form another “Grand Coalition”. Rinse and repeat.