It was recently pointed out to me that, as nationalists, if we wanted the Government to act in a way that inflamed sympathy for our movement, we would have the Government act exactly as they have.
Assuming that the Government are not right-wing accelerationists, there are other strategic reasons why the Government may be incentivised to blunder the handling of the migration crisis.
Anti-Asylum Protests and Sinn Féin’s Declining Popularity
As far back as 2015, polling has consistently shown that Sinn Féin voters were the most anti-migrant voter base in the country. Recent polling has affirmed this. Last month, Sinn Féin voters ranked as the most sceptical of the Government’s refugee policy out of all the major parties. At 61% opposed to the Government’s migration policy, this is notably above the national average and significantly above Fianna Fáil (56%) and Fine Gael (47%). This generally affirms the perception of the Sinn Féin vote, not as an ideological vote but as a protest vote against the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
This is important as immigration rapidly becomes a more significant voting issue. Recently, immigration ranked as one of the two most important issues by 19% of respondents. That’s a 10% increase since the issue was last polled. This has presented an opportunity for the Government to drive a wedge between Sinn Féin and its voter base. As a result of ideological conviction, Sinn Féin is unable to play the populist card on migration. This presents an opportunity for the coalition to allow the migration crisis to devolve with the hope that Sinn Féin will hemorrhage support faster than the coalition.
This is already bearing itself out in polling. Only a few months ago Sinn Féin was polling at a staggering 36%. Since the migration crisis escalated, this has dropped dramatically to 31%. At the same time, support for the coalition parties has completely stabilised. They’ve so far remained unaffected by the growing discontent on migration. Concerningly for Sinn Féin, many of the protests are happening in Sinn Féin strongholds. The largest protests, in East-Wall, are happening in Mary-Lou McDonald’s own constituency.
The protests are interesting for Sinn Féin insofar as many of the posters are more explicitly anti-Sinn Féin than they are anti-Government. This could reflect a growing sense of betrayal by working-class communities by Sinn Féin as they’ve moved to the left on social issues.
Does the Coalition Stand to Benefit from Anti-Immigration Protests?
There is reason to believe that this is the assessment the Government has made on the issue. The next local election is not until 2024, whereas the next general election is not until 2025. The coalition currently has significantly more local seats than Sinn Féin. As councillors vote in Seanad elections, calling an early general election would allow for the coalition to maintain power in the Seanad. This is even more significant as we approach the next presidential election in 2025. However, the Government has not called an early election. This could suggest that the Government believe that Sinn Féin could be damaged to such an extent by the spiralling migration crisis that they believe the next election is winnable for the coalition parties.
This poses a difficulty for the Nationalist right. If the coalition can avoid a Sinn Féin government by playing brinkmanship with the migration crisis, growing a Nationalist movement in electoral politics might be increasingly difficult. It’s generally accepted that right-wing populism won’t be a serious force in Ireland until our people are disillusioned with the left-wing politics of Sinn Féin.
This may be a difficult bridge to cross.