A Week is a Long Time in Politics

A Letter From Ireland

a Chara,

They say that a week is a long time in politics. Last week I was part of the Sinn Féin delegation to Washington and New York. While Ireland was the focus of the week’s events, the siege in Gaza was rightly an ever-present issue and featured in every meeting.

Some had called for a boycott of events. The SDLP, the party of John Hume, refused to travel and engage with political leaders or the US Administration. That is their choice. If all parties and the Irish Government had followed their lead then the urgent need for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, hostage release, and a political process to secure a two-state solution would not have been made directly to decision-makers.

Michelle O’Neill raised the issue directly to President Biden. Mary Lou McDonald engaged in lengthy discussions on the issue with the Administration, with political leaders including Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and in public comments at Georgetown University.

The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, did the same at events and in public comments in the White House standing beside the President. Ireland’s position on Palestine was well articulated.

I was no sooner back in Ireland, unpacking and following up emails from the visit, when the news broke that Leo Varadkar would be stepping down as leader of Fine Gael and as Taoiseach. It was a surprise to all including his own party and their coalition partners in government.

This triggers the process of electing a new leader of Fine Gael, this would be completed by their Ard Fheis (annual conference) on April 6th. The new leader will then be nominated for the position of Taoiseach with a vote in the Dáil (Irish Parliament). The Fine Gael leader will have to rely on the support of their coalition partners in Fianna Fáil and the Greens to secure the position of Taoiseach. If they refuse to endorse the new leader then it will likely trigger a general election.

As of today there is only one declared contender, Simon Harris TD. A former health and current Higher Education Minister. He has been a TD since 2011 and is seen as a Fine Gael insider having served in government for 10 years.

When he resigned, Leo Varadkar said he believed that he was not the right person to lead his party into elections. This is set to be a historic year with Local Government and European elections in June and an anticipated general election in the Autumn.

Both Fianna Fáil and the Greens have stated that they will support a new Fine Gael leader as Taoiseach. The parties seem to be running scared of an election.

The coalition that has been in power since 2020 is a government that no one voted for.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil ran on a platform opposing going into government together. After the election that pledge was thrown out the window for the sake of blocking Sinn Féin, the largest party, from entering government.

Part of the deal was for a revolving Taoiseach, first Fianna Fáil and now Fine Gael. They believe the highest office in government is theirs and theirs alone to determine.

To appoint the next leader of Fine Gael as Taoiseach without an election is a continuation of that entitlement.

Legally, there has to be an election at some point within the next ten months. A general election should be called now and a government and Taoiseach returned with a mandate. The next Taoiseach should be elected by the people. That is the democratic thing to do. Unless you are afraid of the voters.

There is a sense that this Government has run out of steam, ideas, and ambition. Change is in the air. I hope that it lands with the first Sinn Féin government in the history of the state.

I wonder what next week will bring?

Have a great weekend.

Is mise,

Ciarán

Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.

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