Writing this late on Monday evening, the election count is almost done. The unexpected surge from Sinn Féin (SF) has completely shaken up the political structure in Ireland, and whatever the outcome may be, this will go down as an historical election.
Now that the votes have been (almost entirely) tallied, the focus will shift onto how a government will be formed, with no party having anywhere near the 80 seats required to have a majority. We may yet see weeks of wrangling and deal-making. There is even talk in the media of a rotating Taoiseach*, an unprecedented and unwieldy proposition. At this point, things are almost impossible to predict, with so many permutations and so much compromise needed to be made. There may well even be another election this year, which Fianna Fáil (FF) and Fine Gael (FG) will be desperate to avoid, knowing that another election will see SF capitalise on their majority in the popular vote to run more candidates and further erode the long-standing duopoly.
However, there is one thing that was sadly predictable about SF’s spectacular rise. Since the first results starting coming in on Sunday afternoon, the memes have started. A whole slew of childish comments on how Ireland is going to be ruled by gun-toting, balaclava-wearing shadowy figures. On one level this seems mostly harmless, but looking more closely it is a clear indication that so much of the country has no idea what the modern Sinn Féin party is all about. I won’t go over old ground, as I have already written about their break from their past here. But is seems that despite their success in the election, SF are still seen as the butt of a joke to so much of the population. This of course, only serves to help FF and FG.
With SF being the target of such social media spamming, the incorrect image of them being a paramilitary organisation will persist. This suits the establishment parties, as it gives them a stick with which to beat SF with. FF and FG don’t care what the actual truth is, as long as the image of SF in the public consciousness keeps them associated with the IRA. Ignorance of the nuances of politics has served FF and FG well for decades, and this is just one more example.
And where have all these jokes and memes come from? Quite probably from many sources, but I don’t doubt that some of them were started by FF and FG members or supporters, or at least propagated by them. Maybe even by the weaselly** guttersnipe Eoghan Murphy himself (pictured above trolling Gerry Adams on Twitter…).
Get ready for many more weeks and months of this. Only today on RTE news SF leader Mary Lou McDonald was questioned about newly elected SF TD David Cullinane singing rebel songs in a Waterford pub celebrating his election. Eoghan Murphy himself and Michael Ring, the first FG TD to be (re)elected yesterday, both used their airtime to snipe at SF.
It will serve FF and FG well to continue dredging up SF’s past, and playing on public misconceptions about the party. By us continuing to reinforce the inaccurate stereotypical views of SF, we are playing into the hands of the former ‘big two’ parties.
The gun has long been gone from Irish politics. It’s time everyone grew up and started to take this new era seriously. There is an opportunity for a new political outlook in Ireland, let’s not ruin it by falling for idiotic narratives.