Variations on a team

Ideological bias teamed up with sheer laziness to scupper any decent analysis of one of the most interesting post-election questions: what happened to Sinn Féin? The rather pathetic pundit consensus focussed on Breakfast-Roll Man, ex-dole sponger turned ambitious worker, symbol of how the boom has made working-class voters richer and more conservative, turned off by SF's focus on social housing and public services. (Why BRM was so turned on by SF in the mid-boom 2002 and 2004 elections was rarely addressed.)


Hearing the party leadership, post-election, embrace the too-leftist-on-the-economy consensus should have made journalists more suspicious of it.

When it comes to the established parties, Irish political analysts understand the fundamental importance of organisation. Repeatedly during April and May we heard how Enda Kenny had energised Fine Gael grassroots and its people were working tirelessly. And there is always the rather more sinister cliché of the Fianna Fáil “machine”, which always “rolls into action” like a political Panzer division. These parties' successes were regularly chalked up to their teams, not their policies.

But Sinn Féin's failures failed to merit similar analysis. The invisible fact is that much of the party's Dublin membership, overwhelmingly genuine republican socialists, was disillusioned by the leadership's swerve to the right – especially its abandonment of the ard-fheis position on corporation tax and its unseemly eagerness for coalition. Election workers fell away in droves – and on the doorstep a bussed-in Northerner is no match for a fellow Dub.

Having spent the campaign praising, however grudgingly, the party's increased “pragmatism” and “attractiveness”, the media could hardly be expected to recognise that these same qualities had cost its seats, by shattering the cohesion of its “machine”