29 January 2020, The Tablet

Irish general election: How long can the centre hold?

Irish general election: How long can the centre hold?

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald


When voters go to the polls next Saturday to choose the next Dáil Éireann, housing and health care rather than the government’s handling of Brexit will be vote winning issues

Eaten bread, as the saying goes, is soon forgotten. Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar may have called an election against the background of Westminster voting for a Brexit withdrawal agreement that gave Ireland all it could realistically hope for, but it seems the electorate is in no mood to reward the young Taoiseach and his ruling Fine Gael party for their diplomatic successes.

Opinion polls showed the governing party in serious trouble, losing ground dramatically to their traditional rivals Fianna Fáil, led since 2011 by experienced former minister Micheál Martin, and even to the Sinn Féin of Mary Lou McDonald, while the Green Party looks set to gain a handful of seats even if – as likely – it falls short of its dramatic 11.4 per cent of the vote in last year’s European elections.

There may well be everything to play for in the coming Brexit trade talks, but if there’s a clear message from what Irish electors are telling pollsters it’s that bread-and-butter concerns will decide how they vote on 8 February. “We do need change and the old sort of two-party politics has to go,” Dave Leavy, a 62-year-old barman turned health-and-safety consultant in north Dublin, told me, pinpointing health, housing, and pensions as the challenges for any incoming government. “I would personally like to see a coalition between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin.” But, he added, “that’s not going to happen”.

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