Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army, became the biggest party in Dublin city as voters punished the ruling coalition for three years of austerity amid a rise in protest votes across Europe.
The party has more members of Dublin City Council than any other after municipal elections on Friday and topped the Irish capital’s poll for a European Parliament seat. Support for Sinn Fein and other anti-austerity groups swelled across Ireland as they grabbed seats from government parties.
“It’s a profound change in the political landscape,” Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said in an interview posted on the Irish Independent’s website, adding the party is at its strongest in almost a century. “The government will think it can dismiss this as a bit of a scolding by the electorate, but it’s bigger and deeper than that.”
The Irish joined voters across Europe in voting for groups campaigning against tax rises and spending cuts that introduced in the wake of the financial crisis. The scale of government losses may prompt the ruling coalition, made up of Fine Gael and the Labour Party, to trim the 2 billion euros ($2.8 billion) of austerity planned for next year.
“There will be a reaction from the government,” said said Dermot O’Leary, an economist with Goodbody Stockbrokers in Dublin. “It’s odds on that the number will be closer to 1.5 billion euros at this point.”
Sinn Fein, which wants to implement a 13 billion euro stimulus package, won 153 local council seats with most of the 949 seats filled nationwide, according to state-owned broadcaster RTE. In 2009, the party won just 54 seats, according to the Environment Ministry, which oversees elections.
The party took 16 seats of 63 seats on Dublin’s city council, and its candidate topped the European poll as she took one of three seats in the capital. Sinn Fein is in contention to take a seat in each of the country’s European constituencies, according to a RTE exit poll.
Support for government parties tumbled across the country. Fine Gael, the senior member of the coalition, has about 223 local council seats so far compared with 340 in 2009 while the Labour Party won 50 seats, down from 132, according to RTE and the Environment Ministry.
Fianna Fail, the biggest Irish party before it led the country into the financial crisis, won 259 seats, compared with 218 seats in 2009.
With the next general election due to be held in 2016, the government may yet benefit from a recovery in the economy. Employment rose 2.3 percent in the first quarter from the year-earlier period, the country’s central statistics office said today. The unemployment rate fell to 12 percent, the lowest in at least two years.
Sinn Fein wasn’t immune from disappointment. In a special election to the national parliament in west Dublin, the party’s candidate lost out to the Socialist Parliament’s Ruth Coppinger.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Adams said it’s possible that his recent arrest in connection with the murder of a woman in Belfast in 1972 may have affected the party’s vote. Adams, who denied any connection with the killing, was freed without charged after being questioned by police in Northern Ireland this month.
“In terms of the big picture, it’s way too early to say how Sinn Fein might do in 2016,” said O’Leary. “I wouldn’t exaggerate this, it’s a mid-term election after all.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Donal Griffin in Dublin at firstname.lastname@example.org