Skip to main content

The European and Local Election in Ireland in May 2019

The European and Local Elections in Ireland         Gerry OShea

The recent European and Local elections held in Ireland on May 24th provided some interesting and significant results in both parts of the island.

The Sinn Fein vote in the North held well in the nationalist community there, but in the South the party dropped about a third of its support, shedding close to half its representatives in local councils and failing to hold two of its three seats in Europe.

This collapse was not anticipated by the pundits and led to widespread speculation about why so many voters abandoned the party.

It was Mary Lou McDonald's first election as leader of Sinn Fein after decades of Gerry Adams at the top. He registered very well with Republican voters because of his close association with the revolution in the North. Adams claims controversially that he was never a member of the IRA but he certainly had the whiff of cordite which drew credibility from a significant number of nationalists in every constituency.

On the other hand many commentators expected that McDonald, an able proponent for left-wing causes but with no personal connection to the revolutionary years, would win the support of progressive voters in tune with Sinn Fein's economic policies but who had opposed the IRA war in the North. That did not happen.

One factor that hurt the Sinn Fein vote centers on the party's abstention policy from Westminster. Normally this strategy wouldn't bother people in the South, but the failure of the seven Sinn Fein MP's to play any role in the Brexit debate weakens the Irish case in these crucial negotiations.

 The Democratic Unionist Party(DUP), which only represents slightly more than 20% of the Northern electorate, commands the sole Irish voice that is heard as the interminable negotiations for an acceptable exit policy go on.

Sinn Fein's abstention policy was developed in very different circumstances a hundred years ago. It is a serious mistake to continue this approach and allow the far-right wing of unionism to represent the interests of the people in the North, who in the Brexit referendum voted by a clear majority to remain in Europe.

The British decision to leave the European Union has huge implications for both parts of Ireland. One explanation for the collapse of the Sinn Fein vote in the South suggests that the voters, especially in the Dublin and Cork constituencies, are not pleased that there is no voice for nationalist Ireland as the Brexit debacle continues in Westminster.

The recent abortion and same-sex marriage referenda divided all the political parties in the South, but the two main groups, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, regained their support in the May elections. The conservative wings of both parties, who mostly disagreed with the constitutional changes, returned to their base allegiance in the recent voting.

Some commentators suggest that many traditional Catholic Sinn Fein supporters did not forgive Mary Lou for her prominent leadership  advocating for constitutional change in the areas of abortion and same-sex marriage, which was definitely not part of their understanding of traditional Republicanism.

A  prominent and impressive former Sinn Fein TD,  Peadar Toibin, who strongly opposed legalizing abortion, left the party and set up AONTU, a new group which promotes a pro-life agenda while basically following traditional Republican  policies on economic matters and on the national question. They barely registered in the May elections, but they are organizing North and South highlighting a different Republican approach to the emotional life issue.

Still with about 10% of the vote - down from around 15% - Sinn Fein remains the third largest party in the Dail. Ms McDonald promised a humble (her surprising description)  far-reaching reflection on the poor election results and a renewed drive to build the organization and clarify their policies before the next general election for the Dail, which is likely to take place in the next twelve months. Another bad election for Sinn Fein would be disastrous for the party and surely lead to a change of leadership.

The success of the Green Party, led by the dynamic and authentic Sean Ryan, was predicted but not to the extent of winning more than 50 Local Authority seats and with an impressive 11% of the votes cast sending 2 MEP's to Europe. With this level of support the Greens are likely to have a major say in the composition of the next government in Dublin.

The Green Revolution, as Ryan's party's increased electoral support is being called, extended throughout Europe. They will form a strong group in the new European Parliament. Their focus is, of course, on the climate change crisis and the need for radical new policies to avoid a major environmental disaster.

It is noteworthy that the increased Green support in Europe came mainly from voters under 35, called millennials by some experts. Polls in America also identify this cohort of young voters as very concerned about the extreme weather that is becoming more and more part of our forecasts. Reliable and well-qualified scientists warn us that our universe is living on borrowed time.

  President Trump, alone among Western leaders, considers global warming a hoax, and he is consistent in pursuing policies that are detrimental to the environment. Most millennials strongly disagree. Driven by this issue, they are likely to have an important say on who wins the presidential election next year similar to the impact they just had in the European elections.

The Alliance Party, a determined non-sectarian group in Belfast, polled well in Northern Ireland, winning one of the three European seats, all now held by women, at the expense of the Official Unionist Party. They join Sinn Fein as strong supporters of Britain staying in Europe.

Will Alliance continue to grow and win more seats in future general elections? Can they, perhaps, break the stranglehold of sectarian voting in the North? Winning one of the European seats was a real boost for non-sectarian politics in an area that has been blighted by the seemingly-inexorable division along religious lines.

One other comment on the European elections in Ireland. The big focus in Great Britain and mainland Europe was on the level of support for narrow nationalist anti-immigrant  parties led by the likes of Farage in England and Le Pen in France. Their narrow views did not resonate with the Irish electorate; in fact there is no anti-immigrant  political party in the country.

 While there are always challenging problems when new groups settle in established communities, the traditional Christian welcome for strangers as well as the long Irish history of sending their own to foreign shores trumps any tendency to join disgruntled far-right groups that advocate closing doors to stranded refugees.


Gerry O'Shea blogs at







Popular posts from this blog

    Unionist Isolation in Northern Ireland              Gerry OShea Joe Brolly, known as a fine footballer and lively commentator on big Gaelic matches on Irish television, writes a regular column in the Sunday Independent in Dublin. Recently, he penned an uncharacteristically bitter essay about the celebrations in Belfast following the victory of Glasgow Rangers in the Scottish Football League. Joe had no problem with fans celebrating the win, their first in ten years, but the carry-on by Rangers supporters in the Shankill Road area left him in a foul mood. The old gutter anti-Catholic tropes were heard throughout the crowd. Hurrah! Hurrah! We are the Billy Boys   --- Up tae yer knees in Finian blood.   Surrender or ye’ll die. He noted that the following day the police superintendent responsible for the area, Nigel Henry, expressed his “disappointment” about a large crowd partying in clear breach of the Covid restrictions on gatherings in the city. A few weeks previously Mar


Neoliberalism                Gerry OShea The story is told that shortly after the great trade union leader Mike Quill arrived in New York, he inquired about what kind of government existed in America. After someone gave him a brief explanation, he replied “well we are against the government anyway.” Mike had just come from a family that fought the British in the Irish War of Independence and that was equally hostile to the Free State Government which took over in Dublin in 1922, four years before he left for the United states from his home in Kilgarvan, County Kerry. President Reagan’s oft-quoted statement that “the most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I am here to help” always evokes   loud applause from conservative audiences. His words encapsulate the belief that the less state involvement in all aspects of life the better. They always make one exception for military spending, and so they endorse the present defense budget in the U

Anger in America

  Anger in America                     Gerry OShea Rage is dominating the American body politic. The culture has become so toxic that we can no longer just agree to disagree.   In April of this year, reputable pollsters revealed that 70% of Republicans declared that the presidential election was stolen and Donald Trump should be re-installed in the White House. A September gauge of opinion showed that the figure of Republican disbelievers in the Biden presidency has grown to a whopping 78%. It is important to explain that there is not a scintilla of evidence supporting this erroneous contention. Mr. Trump’s lawyers’ claims of electoral impropriety were considered by close to sixty judges, some of whom were appointed by the former president, and none of them even allowed the case to be heard because no evidence of wrongdoing was presented in court. The Supreme Court with a strong influence of Trump appointees refused even to consider the case. The Department of Justice under Wil