“You’re playing senior hurling now lads” – David McCann on the rise of Sinn Fein

Social share:



“You’re playing senior hurling now lads” the late Seamus Brenann said to Green party TDs as they entered government for the first time in 2007 with Fianna Fáil. This statement is now equally true of Sinn Fein as they celebrate increasing success both North and South of the border emerging with 4 MEPs and over 250 councillors across the island of Ireland. The rise of Sinn Fein has serious consequences for the more established parties in the Dail but also for the future direction of the Executive as they aim to implement further cuts and contentious issues like welfare reform.

The emergence of Sinn Fein as a major political force has been years in the making as the party’s main competition on the left, Labour began to see dramatic falls in its support following its entry into government with Fine Gael in March 2011. Sinn Fein has successfully positioned itself as the leaders of the opposition to the austerity that has been implemented by the last two governments since 2008. The increasing weariness of the Irish electorate has now manifested itself in a strong rise in Sinn Fein’s support. Once the pariah of Irish politics, they have now grown to such an extent that they will in all likelihood become the third largest party at the next general election.

However, Sinn Fein needs to guard against Wilde’s famous quote that ‘when the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.’  Should the party win twenty plus seats at the next election, there will be a great deal more scrutiny on the feasibility of their economic policies. Moreover, should they end up in the position of kingmakers within the next Dáil, they will have to enter a coalition with either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, at a time when money and opportunities for new social programmes are scarce. Like Labour in 2011, the party’s support is now anchored to one of the most electorally volatile constituencies in the country, who while they quickly flocked to the party two weeks ago, will quite easily turn away from them if they are seen to be backtracking on their promises to end the cuts and implement a more left wing agenda.

There too are problems for the party when it comes to governing in Northern Ireland. As we face more difficult choices over welfare reform and how we re-structure our own dependence on the public sector, it will be increasingly difficult for the party to agree to difficult cuts in public expenditure which it has up until recently been able to agree to. This will place added strain on relationships with the DUP and could see further destabilisation of the Executive.

Yet, putting off welfare reform and blaming the British government for cuts will only get Sinn Fein so far. Austerity is being implemented by governments both left and right across Europe; the promise of a better way to balance the books has been made by left wing parties in countries like France and Greece in opposition; only to find when  they actually get into government that things just are not that simple.

The rise of Sinn Fein matters for all of us on this island and they should not be taken for granted. For people who oppose them, it would the foolish to simply dismiss them as irrelevant or not recognise their success. Likewise, the party supporters should not kid themselves that it is all plain sailing ahead; issues like welfare reform, budget deficits and cuts are not going away anytime soon. The voters, who brought Sinn Fein to the dance in the South, could very easily abandon the party, if they enter government in the near future.


Social share:

About Author

Dr.David McCann, holds a PhD from the University of Ulster in North-South relations.


  1. Philip Kelly on

    its not the policy its the lies that were told to the people by lab/fg just to get power coupled by the many cuts imposed on the poor and working poor plus the household /property/ water charges things that they told the people they would not do and the imposition of the unlawful bank debt remember fg not a red cent to anglo irish bank and did opposite making the poor to pay for it plus destruction of the health and education systems/service people can only take so much so 500,000 of our brightest young people have left in despair and hoping to build a better future elsewhere
    sinn feinn have watched and have learned from this and the people have realised that SF worked hard on the north and that adams and mcguinness delivered held their heads up and against all the media and political ambushes ( remember gay byrne,aganist gerry adams, or ocallaghan and v brown against martin mcguinness in presidential election) have won the respect and trust of at least 26% of the irish people a figure that is growing daily that is a trust that is/was hard won and will not be taken for granted, by the way SINN FEINN have been playing senior hurling and more important hurling that any hurler on the ditch from the south or ff/fg/lab/sdlp in the interest of ireland and not self interest

  2. swimtwobirds on

    You might be forgetting the scenario where a Sinn Fein lead left alliance with the technical group takes power, and both post civil war parties, FF and FG are torn limb from limb, labour is annihilated and the remains are dumped onto the opposition benches.

    We then have a true left government, Sinn Fein takes say justice and health, the likes of Shane Ross holds a ministry, and the ancien regime that’s had a throttle hold on this state since the thirties has a complete mental breakdown. I would pay good money to see that.

Leave A Reply