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09 June 2024

McDonald ‘disappointed’ with Sinn Fein results in Irish elections

09 June 2024

The leader of Sinn Fein is “sorry” that her candidates did not perform better in Ireland’s local elections, amid criticism of the party’s strategy in the council races.

Mary Lou McDonald made the comments as vote counting continues for Ireland’s local and European elections.

She said she was “disappointed” that more of her candidates were not elected.

Early indications show there will be no Sinn Fein surge, while Government parties do not appear to have suffered a major electoral blow.

The fuller picture of the state of play for political parties and independents will become clear throughout the day.

Commentators have noted that Sinn Fein’s strategy in some constituencies had led to its vote being split too much.

Ms McDonald said: “Clearly, we didn’t get that right.”

She added: “It’s not just the number of the candidates, but the fact that in so many cases they were first-time candidates.”

Speaking at a count centre in Dublin, Ms McDonald said: “We have made some gains, they are modest, but they’re there.

“It hasn’t been our day. Clearly frustrations – anger indeed – with government policy on this occasion has translated into votes for independents and others.

“We have to now prepare ourselves for the general election, whenever that will happen. We’ll take time to reflect.”

Asked about whether the lacklustre result would affect her leadership, Ms McDonald said she “absolutely” committed to staying on in the role.

“I will lead this reflection and this process,” she said.

On Saturday, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said the expectation that Sinn Fein would be in the next government has been “shattered” by the initial indications in the local elections.

Irish voters have voted to elect almost 1,000 new councillors, 14 members to the European Parliament and, for the first time, one city’s citizens were asked to pick their mayor.

Despite winning 24.5% of first preference votes in a historic result in the 2020 general election, and hovering above 30% in opinion polls for a long time, the fate of many of Sinn Fein’s candidates is expected to depend on transfers.

However, Sinn Fein is expected to still make some gains on the 2019 election, where it won around 9% of first preference votes and 81 council seats out of 949.

Ireland’s deputy premier Micheal Martin argued his Fianna Fail party had performed “far better” than predicted, while Mr Donohoe said the results so far showed Fine Gael was not a spent political force.

Overall, the portrayal that some have offered of Fine Gael as a tired party – that narrative, that claim, has been shattered by the results that we’re seeing potentially coming through at the moment

Despite the strong showing for government parties so far, ministers stuck to the line that the coalition government would “go the full distance” to February or March before a general election is called.

Asked about Fine Gael’s performance compared with Sinn Fein, Mr Donohoe said: “Overall, the portrayal that some have offered of Fine Gael as a tired party – that narrative, that claim, has been shattered by the results that we’re seeing potentially coming through at the moment.”

Mr Martin said the focus would be on putting together a budget for October as his party looked to win an MEP seat in the Midlands-North-West constituency for the first time for 15 years.

“The idea that Fianna Fail would be coming in a distant third is completely disproven,” the Tanaiste said.

“I’ve been looking at opinion polls now for the last three years. This ‘internet panel’ polling having Fianna Fail at 14% and 15% – clearly Fianna Fail will be well ahead of that and will be over 20% by the time all of these counts are collated and put together.

“We put up a very robust performance and we’re holding our own compared to our performance in the general election of 2020.”

The full results of the elections will take days to be finalised thanks to Ireland’s system of proportional representation which allows voters to rank every candidate in each race by order of preference. The process means ballot papers are sorted and counted multiple times by hand.

Counting in the European elections began on Sunday morning and the results of the first tally will not be declared until after 10pm because of ongoing voting in other EU states.

Irish politics is currently dominated by a housing crisis, the cost of living and migration.

The coalition partnership of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party has been battling criticism domestically and on the continent over other issues including climate action, agriculture policy and defence co-operation in the EU.

Political parties have been relying on opinion polls to judge voter sentiment for the previous four years since the last nationwide elections.

The results will also be an indicator of how new Fine Gael leader and Irish premier Simon Harris is faring, having assumed the roles some eight weeks ago after the shock resignation of Leo Varadkar.

The first results for the European elections will not be announced until polling closes in each member state late tonight.

In Dublin, incomplete tallies suggested Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews and Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty were leading.

Green Party incumbent Ciaran Cuffe, Independent Ireland candidate Niall Boylan, Labour representative Aodhan O Riordain and Sinn Fein hopefuls Daithi Doolan and Lynn Boylan will be fighting over the remaining two seats.

In the South constituency, Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly and Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher are considered to be in contention for re-election.

Sinn Fein will be hoping to regain a seat in the region with Kathleen Funchion, while Independent TD Michael McNamara is predicted to take the fourth seat.

In Midlands-North-West, there are 27 candidates fighting for five seats in the massive electoral region which spans 15 counties.

Fine Gael is running former jockey Nina Carberry alongside incumbent MEP Maria Walsh, while Fianna Fail has fielded three candidates: Lisa Chambers, Barry Cowen and Niall Blaney.

Doubt has been raised over Sinn Fein’s chances after splitting the vote with two hopefuls: current MEP Chris MacManus and Michelle Gildernew.

Observers eyeballing stacks of ballots processed by first-preference determined the main contenders, by midday, were Ms Walsh, Mr Cowen and Independent candidate Luke “Ming” Flanagan, with Ms Carberry, Ms Chambers, Mr MacManus, Aontu leader Peadar Toibin and former RTE correspondent Ciaran Mullooly also performing well.

Speaking to reporters at the TF Royal count centre in Castlebar, Co Mayo, Mr Flanagan said: “There’s quite a lot of candidates here who are going to get a significant amount of votes and I think it’s nearly odds on that we’re going to have some sort of a recount.

“All I know is we booked a place to stay for the next week in Castlebar.”

In the south west, voters in Limerick city and county also had the opportunity to directly elect a mayor with executive powers on long-term strategic planning.

Tallies show that Independent candidate John Moran, a former secretary general at the Department of Finance, is in the lead, with Independent candidate Helen O’Donnell in second place.

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