- 27 May 19
No one saw it coming – not even the Green Party themselves. That is the general assessment as the counting in the Local Elections approaches its endgame. But the ones who must be most thoroughly flummoxed are in Sinn Féin, who have taken a thorough hammering at the hands of the electorate.
The Green Party are the big winners in the Local Government Elections in Ireland. That much is certain, as hundreds of losing candidates – including many who were councillors – begin to lick their wounds and wonder ‘where did it all go wrong’?
That question is particularly urgent for Sinn Féin, who are without doubt the big losers in both the Local and the European elections, 2019. In the latter, there is still an element of 'all to play for’ with the difficulty in forecasting where transfers might end up, as candidates are eliminated or elected, making it difficult to know where the final seats, in particular, are likely to go. But in the local elections, Sinn Féin has collapsed from a high of 159 seats five years ago, to currently stand at just 78.
Their final tally will be a bit higher, but either way, it represents a disaster for the party – not quite on the scale of the battering Fine Gael and Labour were on the receiving end of in 2014 – but still humiliating for the Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.
On current figures, it is clear that Fianna Fáil will again be the biggest party in local government, with an increased number of seats. Fine Gael will also end up regaining some ground – maybe in the region of ten seats. But they had targeted a much bigger bounce – an ambition that was scuppered, in part at least, by the rise of the Green Party.
There is very good reason to talk about a ‘Green wave’ being the big story of the elections, with Ciaran Cuffe likely to top the poll in the European election in Dublin and Saoirse McHugh (pictured above) and Grace O’Sullivan, of the Green Party, also in contention in the North West and the South respectively. For the party leader Eamon Ryan, in European terms, this is a day of vindication.
But their performance in the Local Elections is impressive too, with candidates topping the poll in constituencies all over the country, and Green councillors being elected in areas that would never have leant towards the Green Party in the past. While there is considerable euphoria among Green Party activists, there is also an awareness that they probably should have run more candidates – that the seats were there for the taking, if they'd had the foresight to recognise it.
What does it say about the mood of the electorate, meanwhile, that the centre-right parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will end up with considerably more than 500 seats? For the left generally, it has been a chastening few days. It is clear that some of the support Sinn Féin had generated has leaked back to a resurgent Fianna Fáil. Some has also drifted to the Greens. But while there are environmental socialists among the Green Party candidates – the young European candidate Saoirse McHugh from Achill Island among them – the party can scarcely be described as left wing.
On the current arithmetic, that leaves about 140 political party-based left-wing councillors. There are left candidates among the independents too, of course, but they are probably far outnumbered by the one-issue candidates, residents association types, local oddballs, right-wing nut jobs – and so on.
One implication may be that the old left/right divide makes less sense than ever to a young electorate. But then there is a related question as to how many of the people who voted Green fully understand the implications of Green thinking, with the inversion of the old 'growth model' of economic development potentially carrying a significant threat to the future of jobs and work in Ireland and across Europe.
All of that is in the future. For now, the seat-count as it stands is: Fianna Fáil 263 / Fine Gael 233 / Independents and Others 205 / Sinn Fein 78 / Labour 52 / Green Party 47 / Solidarity People Before Profit 11.
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