The view from Dublin: Voters yearn for change

The landslide result for Sinn Fein in the Irish General Election has sent shockwaves around the country, as the dominance of two parties since the foundation of the State has come to an end.

A desire for “change” was cited among voters despite attempts by the ruling Fine Gael party to make its handling of Brexit part of its re-election strategy.

On Monday morning in Dublin’s city centre, change was the word on people’s lips, with voters expressing little surprise Sinn Fein had stolen such a march on its political rivals.

Cathal O’Connor from Dublin said: “I think people want change. They have lost confidence in the main parties. I think the main parties have ignored people and their concerns. In my opinion it is probably a protest vote.”

Mr O’Connor said he had voted for a different party this time as he is concerned about the housing crisis and said the Fine Gael-led Government had failed to tackle it.

Cathal O’Connor outside St Stephen’s Green shopping centre in Dublin
Cathal O’Connor outside St Stephen’s Green shopping centre in Dublin

“They have ignored the social problems such as the amount of homeless people on the streets,” he said.

“The cost of living is getting expensive, rents are very high and people are finding it difficult to get affordable accommodation even if they have good jobs.

“People feel they are not being listened to and not cared about – this in my opinion is a protest vote against that. It is happening all over Europe.”

For Mr O’Connor, Brexit had no bearing on his voting intention.

“No it didn’t… I think Brexit may have an impact whenever a trade agreement is reached later this year where we may see food becoming more expensive and tariffs being introduced but it wasn’t a factor when I voted.”

Older voters such as Teresa Doyle from Co Kilkenny, who has voted for more than five decades, said she is “amazed” by the result.

“I did not think Sinn Fein would do as well. I expected Fianna Fail to come first and Fine Gael second so I’m shocked.”

Student Gary Brady from Co Wexford said the result “signifies a big change in Irish politics”.

Gary Brady from Co Wexford
Gary Brady from Co Wexford

“I think the two civil war parties – Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – just fighting it out is a thing of the past… that’s all dying out.”

“It is a great victory for the Sinn Fein party and for smaller parties in general. I think it is nice to see smaller parties coming into the fold again because after all, smaller parties could be potential kingmakers in the next government and I think it shows how versatile the Irish political system can get.

“There is a need for change when it comes to delivering proper housing, healthcare and infrastructure and this need for change has really resonated with the public.

“There’s maybe a bit of a protest vote going on as well because Fianna Fail and Fine Gael may not have been there for people in the past 10 or 15 years.”

Mr Brady said Brexit was not an issue for him as a voter, citing the need for better public transport as his main wish.

“There may be a bit of chaos going forward when it comes to forming the next government but overall, I think we will be better off for it.”

A flower seller on Grafton Street, who did not wish to be named, said she was delighted with Sinn Fein’s surge and said leader Mary Lou McDonald’s popularity had been the key to its success.

“I’m just shocked they didn’t win more seats,” she said.

“The people want change… they see that the Government that has been in the past 10 years has done nothing… our country is meant to be blooming yet you have all these homeless kids on the streets and people waiting on hospital trolleys.

“I know Brexit affects the country and all but that comes second… homelessness and hospitals should come first.

“You had the two main parties saying they wouldn’t go in with Sinn Fein… well now it’s a different story and I hope to God she doesn’t go with them. Mary Lou is for the people, the other parties live in a different world to us.”

Ava Whelan from Co Wexford, who is in her 20s, said the result shows the playing field for political parties has “dramatically altered”.

Ava Whelan from Co Wexford
Ava Whelan from Co Wexford

“It’s exciting that there is a new opportunity for a new party and it is not the whole dichotomy that we have had for so long,” she said.

“I’m shocked at the scale of Sinn Fein’s vote – in my own constituency in Wexford, the candidate got 800 votes in the local elections last year and yesterday they got 12,000.

“I think it’s the Mary Lou factor. She has changed the party and I think people like her a lot and like her vision and the way she speaks her mind.”