Is the Sinn Féin star starting to wane? Support for the Irish political party has hit its lowest level for four years according to a poll for the influential Business Post newspaper. While Sinn Féin still remains the most popular party in the country, it has dropped seven points since October 2023.
Sinn Féin can only be all things to all people for so long
A reason for the loss of support has been its prevarication around the question of immigration; riots gripped Dublin in late November after an attack by an Algerian man on three children in the heart of the city. Since then, the so-called “land of a thousand welcomes” has grappled with arson attacks on asylum seeker hotels and seen the government reduce welfare benefits and accommodation for Ukrainian refugees.
Most Sinn Féin voters are fine with this sort of stuff, incidentally. A majority of those who support the party take a dim view of immigration compared with their compatriots; over 70 percent said too many were entering the country. A mere 38 percent said they felt that Ireland stood to benefit economically from immigration.
Mary Lou McDonald, the leader of the party, has engaged in a difficult dance, calling protesters far-right while simultaneously criticizing the Irish governments’ laxity around immigration and its effects on the housing market. Such contortions have harmed the party — but Sinn Féin’s problems are not just confined to Ireland’s borders.
McDonald and Michelle O’Neill, the leader of the party in Northern Ireland, will attend the annual White House St. Patrick’s Day shindig in March. That decision has enervated the bit of the party’s base which sees the Palestinian situation as analogous to Northern Ireland. Remarkably, the party have even been outflanked by the mild-mannered SDLP on the issue, with their leader Colum Eastwood saying he will not be attending the events in Washington in protest at Joe Biden’s “atrocious” stance on Gaza.
There was an attempt by Gerry Adams to explain away the DC jaunt by saying Palestinians would understand the party’s reasonings and that Sinn Féin is going “in pursuit of peace.” With an Irish election in a little over a year, is it any wonder that Sinn Féin’s hierarchy has decided that cozying up to its funding base is a more judicious move than niceties about the situation in Gaza?
Sinn Féin’s opponents have enjoyed the spluttering of recent weeks and the party’s rhetoric around an inevitable march of history has lessened. Yet in many ways this situation is not totally unexpected. After all, this is the most abnormal of political parties. Given its steadfast commitment to a maximalist ideology, it is hardly surprising that when it does begin to prevaricate, its supporters are turned off.
The recent polling surge in support of many independent, rural and populist politicians who have a stronger line on immigration is testament to the fact the Irish electorate want a different answer to the immigration question. Sinn Féin can only be all things to all people for so long. Failure to identify a clear stance on immigration could see the party snatch defeat from the jaws of what many saw as an inevitable victory.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.