Sinn Fein on the brink of power as Ireland heads to polls

Credit: Reuters - Politics
Published on February 7, 2020 - Duration: 03:11s

Sinn Fein on the brink of power as Ireland heads to polls

If Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald can turn the Irish nationalist party's opinion poll lead into a historic election breakthrough this week, it will be healthcare and housing not their signature demand for a united Ireland that will have put them on the brink of power.

Emer McCarthy reports.

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Sinn Fein on the brink of power as Ireland heads to polls

Irish voters head to the voting booth on Saturday and the country could be on the brink of a political earthquake.

Opinion polls have shown the nationalist Sinn Fein party in front of the country's center-right duopoly of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail - which have taken turns in power for a century.

The left wing party- which was formerly the political wing of the IRA -- has for the first time established itself as a contender for government.

With the party now led by Dubliner Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Fein's election leaflets still mention the party's historic goal of reunifying the British region of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, but it places these concerns below promises on housing, childcare and insurance costs-- issues high on Irish voters' agendas.

We talked to McDonald earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) LEADER OF IRELAND'S SINN FEIN PARTY, MARY LOU MCDONALD, SAYING: "As you know, we're in the grips of a housing crisis.

It's absolutely chronic out there.

It's heartbreaking out there.

And something has to be done, something radical has to be done, and I firmly believe that we're the people to do that." Gary Murphy is a politics professor at Dublin City Univesity.

He says the party has reinvted itself after a poor showing in the 2016 election.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR OF POLITICS AT DUBLIN CITY UNIVERSITY, GARY MURPHY, SAYING: "I think that she has stabilised the party's drop by appealing not to the traditional Sinn Fein membership, but it's much broader - her appeal.

Gerry Adams was absolutely terrible in the 2016 general election as leader.

He couldn't answer basic questions about the party's tax and spending policies, and I don't think he had an instinctive feel for politics in the Republic of Ireland, coming as he did from four decades of the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland.

Mary Lou McDonald is a completely different figure, and I think she appeals to a different demographic." Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, who will need the support of other parties to form a coalition or minority government, have also refused to govern with Sinn Fein, citing its IRA links and opposing economic policies.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) IRISH PRIME MINISTER AND FINE GAEL LEADER, LEO VARADKAR, SAYING: "I've worked with people in Sinn Fein, in particular in relation to getting the institutions up and running again in Northern Ireland.

But working with people is totally different to entering into coalition, into a partnership government, with them.

And that's something that we can't or won't countenance for reasons I've explained, and the Fine Gael party is united on this; Fianna Fail is not." In every opinion poll so far, taoiseach Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael has trailed fellow center-right party Fianna Fáil, led by Micheál Martin.

Fianna Fail is going into the elction with the slogan 'An Ireland for all' and has promised to retain state-imposed curbs on bankers pay and bonuses if elected, after the country capped executive pay at 500,000 euros a year during the euro zone's costliest banking rescue a decade ago.

Fine Gael, campaigning under the slogan 'A future to look forward to' has put in place programs to help young people buy their first home and to reduce the cost of building, but have shied away from the mass state-funded construction of social housing advocated by left-wing rivals.

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