X Close

Anti-immigration Right makes progress in Irish elections

Thousands of Irish anti-immigration protesters march through Dublin last month. Credit: Getty

June 11, 2024 - 7:00am

Over the weekend, elections were held across Europe to elect MEPs, with the key trend being the success of populist Right-wing candidates across the continent. Ireland, home to a growing grassroots anti-immigration protest movement, held local elections concurrently with the European votes, offering a useful sample size to test the mood of the nation. Will we maintain our reputation as “keen Europeans” in this new and different way?

The elections provided some eye-catching results. In the working-class areas of Dublin, figures directly involved in or associated with the organisation of the anti-immigration protest movement had material success. The biggest win was that of Malachy Steenson, recognised as the key mover behind the “East Wall Says No” protest, elected in the North Inner City. Meanwhile, Gavin Pepper, a similar figure, was elected in a different Dublin constituency.

Where candidates just missed out on being elected, the Achilles heel proved to be transfers. Ireland’s system can be hard to understand for those used to first-past-the-post, but this essentially means that unless a candidate is popular enough to top the poll, they are reliant on transfers from other parties’ voters to get over the line. If their brand is toxic outside their most dedicated supporters, then despite securing a decent proportion of first preferences they will miss out.

The reaction of the largest parties was an illustration of the strangeness of the election. Fine Gael (FG) and Fianna FĂĄil (FF), two of the three coalition partners and the two historically largest parties in Ireland, lost vote share overall and Sinn FĂ©in (SF) gained ground. Yet because of the black mood around the government over the last few months, this was seen as a moderate success for FF, a big success for FG, and an absolute disaster for SF.

The Sinn FĂ©in perspective is worth digging into. The party has polled as high as 35% nationally since the last election was held, but has seen its vote decline in polling to just above 20% due to a perceived flip-flopping on immigration. Its total vote share in this election should be around 12% which will be seen as proof that immigration is the fatal flaw in its coalition, highlighting the difference in values between its working-class and middle-class voters.

An important caveat is that this was a close replication of Sinn FĂ©in’s local elections performance of 2019 — eight months later it went on to sweep the country with a stunning general election result that made it the biggest party in the DĂĄil. Party leaders will certainly be telling themselves that this is merely a continuation of an unfortunate pattern in local versus general elections.

The ultimate outcome of this mixed bag of results is that the election functions as a distorted mirror, in which every participant can see the result they want. It did not prove to be a breakthrough for members of the populist nationalist Right in Ireland, but they got their collective foot in the door. No one should underestimate the psychological impact of the National Party — the group that has done more than any other to get the phrase “Ireland belongs to the Irish” into the national consciousness — successfully getting a candidate elected as it did in Dublin. It may not be part of a wave, but it matters.

Perhaps the most resonant image from the election will be a red-faced and teary Malachy Steenson being bounced at not-quite-shoulder height as his results came through. What is the lesson the insurgent forces in Irish politics can take from his election? If you select a candidate who has been seen to do something for your constituents on a subject they care about that is being ignored by the powers that be, you can succeed. “Long-suffering community activist gets elected in working-class area” — the messages of this election were muddled, but surely that’s a result that even Left-wingers can get behind.


Conor Fitzgerald is a writer from Dublin. His Substack is TheFitzstack.

fitzfromdublin

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

12 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Victor James
Victor James
14 days ago

Here’s a much more accurate framing: Anti-colonisation, pro-Irish right makes progress in Irish elections.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
14 days ago
Reply to  Victor James

Ireland is colonised totally by the EU … we await developments

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
14 days ago

No mention of the Irish Freedom Party in this article?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
13 days ago

Conor Fitzgerald presents a wildly inaccurate gloss on the Irish results to further his agenda of an anti-immigrant far-Right insurgency. Two extraordinary takes are (1) the three Centre-ground Government parties polled a combined 50%, almost identical to their 2020 election showing. With the Government four years into its term and with one major component – Fine Gael – in power continually for 13 years since 2011, that is a stunning endorsement of the Centre ground by Irish voters. (2) Sinn FĂ©in, the Official Opposition, had a disastrous result when it should have swept all before it. Having secured 24.5% in the general election of 2020, it slumped to 12%. That is unprecedented anywhere in Europe, now or in the past. (3) The remaining vote – 38% – was split across a plethora of small parties, Independents on both Right and Left with no discernable swing to candidates advocating a specific anti-immigrant stance.

Why does Conor Fitzgerald mention none of this? He could also have pointed out that the Centre-ground consolidated around the Government parties, which have presided over a demographic transformation of the country. Of a population of 5.27 million, 1.15 million are foreign-born migrants, 90% of them economic, 10% refugees. That’s 22% of the overall population by comparison with an average of 15% across Western Europe (17% in the UK). Mr. FIitzgerald has done your readers a serious disserve in the picture he presents.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
13 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The Greens or SF are hardly centre ground? They are radical progressive open border lunatics. And are now seen as such.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
13 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

It’s a catastrophe where I live 
 young Muslim men hanging around leering at girls all day 
 mentally ill africans waiting to bring their wives here to live off the state. Bus loads of Indians 
 Ukrainians renting out their houses and returning to Kyiv 
. People aren’t complaining about nurses from the Philippines!

ANNE Quinlan
ANNE Quinlan
13 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

You forgot to include the number of other EU citizens who are here, either in low paid jobs, or who end up on social welfare, and who also go on to need social housing or housing support payments.

What started out as the free movement of workers has turned into welfare tourism for many, I don’t blame people for moving here, the subsidies and the welfare payments make Ireland very attractive, but we were assured during many Treaty debates that this would not be the case.

John Tyler
John Tyler
13 days ago

Oh yuk! Anti uncontrolled immigration may be popular, but is not populist.

Peadar Laighléis
Peadar Laighléis
13 days ago

If there is any take that needs to be concentrated upon from a populist point of view, it’s the first time outing of the new Independent Ireland. It has taken 23 council seats and is currently challenging for two European seats. This is still modest.
To be quite honest I don’t there’s anything the coalition can be smug about other than the appalling performance of Sinn FĂ©in, whose main problem is that they haven’t done opposition very well. Fine Gael has benefitted from a new face, in what is probably a temporary phenomenon. Fianna FĂĄil’s surprisingly strong showing I can only put down to some of their voters migrating back to them after concluding a vote for SF is a waste of time. FF were also uncharacteristically lucky in the operation of single transferable vote – usually it works against them.
The independents are many and diffuse and they tend to lean right rather than left – another example is a group behind the independent deputy in Wexford Verona Murphy who now hold a block of six seat on Wexford County Council. To be honest, the story of these elections is what’s about to unfold rather than what has actually happened.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
13 days ago

With the repeated references to the right, the far right, and (gasp!) the extreme right, the inference is that the totality of the left is on board with the endless importation of third-world people. For some reason, I doubt that.

Mister Smith
Mister Smith
13 days ago

I recently visited Ireland. Not too many red-haired lads and lasses or ethnic Irish children, but many Africans, Muslims, Chinese and Indians. In my opinion, Ireland is too small for endless, unrestricted immigration. How will the tax-paying people there pay for all the new arrivals requiring benefits, health care, housing, etc.? Will turmoil be avoided when Ireland undergoes future demographic transformation? If I lived there, I’d be stressed.

Liam F
Liam F
13 days ago
Reply to  Mister Smith

Mmm, the population density of Ireland is actually comparatively low -even in the pre-Famine era it was well north of 8 Million. IMO It’s the lack of infrastructure planning that is pitting sections of society at one another. When the Govt hasn’t built the necessary housing, roads, etc then people will feel the country is “full”, with the unpleasant side effects shown. (The Nederland has 3 times the population of Ireland in half the space). The main driver of angst is more likely competion for housing. But there is plenty space to build houses.