General Election 2020

General Election 2020 Update – February 3rd

4 February 2020

 Opinion Poll Analysis 

Two opinions published this weekend have confirmed the trend of election 2020 so far: a collapse in support for Fine Gael with a surge in backing for Sinn Féin. 

The Sunday Business Post / Red C poll of 1,000 voters indicates that support for Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin is neck and neck at 24%. Fine Gael is now in third place which is the first time that the party is behind Sinn Féin since summer 2014. The Greens will be disappointed to see its support fall by 1 point to 7% but the party is still in contention to win a seat in all but one Dublin constituency. The key demographic which is driving Sinn Féin’s rise in support is those aged 18-34 where the party commands 35% support, almost double that of Fianna Fáil. 

An online poll by Panelbase for The Times earlier in the weekend indicated a broadly similar result for the three main parties. Fianna Fáil support was two points ahead of Sinn Féin at 23% while Fine Gael trailed in third place at 19%. 

With five days of campaigning left before polling day, there is still a sense that the electorate is volatile. Tomorrow evening the final major televised leaders’ debate will be held between Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar. However, given Sinn Féin’s rapid rise in opinion polls, pressure is mounting on the national broadcaster to include Mary Lou McDonald in the debate. For SF, not being included is perhaps more electorally beneficial than being scrutinised by both Martin and Varadkar. 

On the Campaign Trail 

For Fine Gael there has to be an element of panic setting in with the latest polls indicating the party could face a wipe-out similar to that of the 2002 general election. The party will likely use the coming days to try and win over anti-Sinn Féin voters by pointing out to the possibility of Mary Lou McDonald’s party cosying up with Fianna Fáil in a coalition. The party, which is beginning to accept the overwhelming feeling that voters want a change of government, will be pointing out to voters that not all change can be risk free. Fine Gael has also taken its gloves off with increasing attacks on Fianna Fáil. 

On the policy front, the party is today emphasising its climate action policy with Minister Richard Bruton and Minister of Finance Paschal Donohoe leading the party’s pledges which include a €2 billion plan for retrofitting homes. 

On Friday Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin spoke at the Irish Institute of European Affairs (IIEA) where he accused Fine Gael of trying to “politicise” Brexit in recent weeks; “to say that Ireland can’t have a new government because only the current office holders have the skills and knowledge to handle Brexit”. Adding to this he stated that this view “ignores the reality that we had a functioning government and parliament during the threat of a crash-out Brexit solely because Fianna Fáil acted.” On the topic of a United Ireland, Martin said a referendum will happen “when the time is right and when sectarian issues have been reduced, and when we are able to do more than just offer a swapping of roles, and when we don’t just talk about reconciliation but actually practice it.” 

Micheál Martin will be on the hustings in Kerry, Limerick and Offaly while finance spokesperson Michael McGrath and health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly outlining party’s strategy today for the final campaign week. 

The Green Party leader Eamon Ryan will campaign with his party’s candidates in all five Cork constituencies today. Speaking at the launch of the party’s housing policy this weekend, Ryan outlined how the party will “walk away” from potential government formation talks if the larger parties are not committing to a comprehensive climate change agenda. He explained “If other parties aren’t willing to [have] that level of ambition on climate and designing, housing and transport in a way that meets that bigger objective, we’d have to walk away and say these people aren’t for real.” 

The Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy will launch the party’s “Greener and Fairer” climate policy in Dublin today. The policy is expected to focus on the development of ‘a pay as you save’ national retrofitting programme as well as the establishment of a Just Transition Task Force. The party are aiming to halve Ireland’s CO2 emissions by 2030. Cllr Holly Cairns will publish a paper in Skibbereen entitled ‘Building Sustainable Rural Communities’. 

Sinn Féin party leader Mary Lou McDonald spoke to the (IIEA) on Friday afternoon about her party’s view on the key challenges and priorities for Ireland in the EU after Brexit. She presented Sinn Féin as the only all-island party which could protect both parts’ interests in the next phase of the Brexit negotiations, and outlined the path towards a referendum on Irish unity. 

She criticised the EU for policies such as European cooperation on defence, privatisation, growing federalism, and the eroding of State sovereignty and said, “it would be reckless to ignore the very real problems with the European Union that drove so many British people to a Leave position.” McDonald sees Brexit as a catalyst for change in a reformed European Union. 

McDonald concluded that, “It is a time to unite all of the people who share this island. And to seize, what is, the opportunity of a lifetime.” 

Sinn Féin has bucked the behaviour of other parties by not holding daily press conferences. According to the Irish Times, “You might call it a bit cynical but the party would describe it as clever strategising.” 

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin spoke to the IIEA on Friday on the same topic of the EU. He welcomed the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the British and Irish governments to preserve the Common Travel Area after Brexit. He spoke of the strong economic ties between Britain and Ireland. He acknowledged the economic risks for Ireland of Brexit, but said there is also an opportunity to “imagine a new direction for Ireland that is less constrained by our close historical relationship with Britain”. Howlin envisages a close relationship with the UK and developing Ireland’s economy like that of other small open trading countries such as Denmark and Finland. He said his party would be working on a close economic partnership with no barriers to trade, but “if the push comes to shove, Labour’s preference will be for a close relationship with the European Union over one with Britain”, describing Sinn Féin’s pledges as utterly irresponsible and implausible proposals. 

He contrasted Brexit Britain – “Trump-like, deregulated and socially unjust” – with the inclusive and socially just North European model – a well-regulated economy which provides access to essential services and real opportunities for all. Howlin concluded thus: “This election will set Ireland’s direction of travel. The choice of closer to Brexit Britain or closer to an evolving Europe is not only important, but it will have long-lasting consequences.” 

Today Labour will launch its housing policy at the Irish Architectural archive in Mountyjoy Square at 2pm. 

Quotes of the Day 

– “It has to be centre stage, ignore it at your peril” 

Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan on the inclusion of a comprehensive climate change agenda the possible government talks 

– “Fine Gael have a huge sense of entitlement and they believe that they have a divine right to rule.” 

Michael Martin on Fine Gael during an interview this weekend 

– “Ireland’s perennial dilemma of keeping a leg in both the British economy and the continental European economy is no longer sustainable.” 

Labour leader Brendan Howlin addresses the IIEA