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The times they have a-changed

Wednesday, 12th February, 2020 4:48pm

It seems that all has indeed changed utterly.

Is the old two party dominance over? The first preference vote in General Election 2020 suggests it is, as do the final seat tallies for the three major parties.

Sinn Féin (SF) won 24.53 per cent of the first preference vote, ahead of Fianna Fáil’s (FF) 22.18 per cent and Fine Gael’s (FG) 20.86 per cent. SF turned that into 37 seats, while FF managed 38 and FG achieved 35.

Given that FF's Seán Ó Fearghaíl, the outgoing Ceann Comhairle, was guaranteed his seat without needing to contest the election, in essence FF and SF won exactly the same number of seats.

It was a terrible election result for both FG and also FF who clearly couldn’t differentiate themselves sufficiently from the minority government it supported through the confidence and supply arrangement.

This was not an election about Brexit, or about immigration or about the border. This was an election about the failures of nine years of FG-led governments; principally housing and health. Essentially, it was an election about change.

SF successfully connected with voters with regards to these two issues in particular.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald spoke in a way that people who were sick of the lack of housing and who suffered from the failures of the health system understood.

She spoke to them and said that SF had a plan and they would do better. That was a powerful message.

Many SF TDs have explained their success as one of policy and it was to a degree.

But nobody reads manifestos. Many voters don’t have a great interest in the minutiae of politics and policy, but SF were able to connect with them.

They were not all young, they were not all of one major age cohort. SF did brilliantly in almost every category under 65.

It was also a great election for the Green Party who went from three TDs to 12, continuing the green surge in the local and European elections last year, while the Social Democrats tripled their Dáil representation from two to six, including the remarkable success of now former county councillor Holly Cairns in Cork South West. No FG TD was returned from that former heartland.

SF wish to pursue a coalition of the left first and that seems a logical thing to do, but they almost certainly won’t have the numbers for that. Or at least, they certainly won’t have enough for a stable government.

People Before Profit's Richard Boyd Barrett said that it doesn't appear as if the left-wing parties in the Dáil have the numbers to form a government of the left.

FG have ruled out governing with SF and appear to want to be in opposition, while FF leader Micheál Martin ruled it out before the election but has appeared to soften his stance.

He is in a very delicate position and I can’t see him going into government with SF without some major concessions and admissions from SF about their past. Will that happen?

We will see but we may yet have another election soon I fear!

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