Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin, I would judge, are not violent men. But if someone was to say to them “A weekend is a long time in politics”, they’d risk getting a fist in the face. The two party leaders must be calling on God to explain why he has visited this plague of Sinn Féin voters on them, to torment their thoughts by day and their dreams by night. How could it be? Sinn Féin were supposed to be puttering hopefully along, aiming to make up the lost ground they conceded last time out; now here they were, three percentage points ahead of Leo and nose-to-nose with Micheál. It is the ravings of a madman come true.
In a southern election years ago, Gerry Adams predicted that Sinn Féin would be the story of the election, and so they were – they doubled or was it trebled their small representation of TDs. In this one they already are the talk of the election. The RTÉ debate, scheduled for Tuesday and to include Leo and Micheál solely, now is going to have to do some quick rescheduling. There is no way they can have the debate as solely a Leo and Micheál punch-up: Mary Lou will have to be included.
For Sinn Féin this is good – more attention focused on them, a clear indication that they are sitting at the top table with the Gruesome Twosome. And Mary Lou can handle herself in any TV debate; she may even leave a broken nose or two behind her. At the same time, if she were to be excluded, that’d almost be better – Sinn Féin could then complain about the arrogance of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, and justified sympathy for the party would abound.
If the usually reliable Red C Poll translates into votes next Saturday, Sinn Féin can expect, for every three votes they got last time out, they will get five this time. The problem is, they’ve deliberately pruned the number of candidates running. So again with the proviso that polls translate into votes, Aengus O Snodaigh and Mary Lou, for example, can expect to have a very hefty surplus of votes – but they’ll have no running mate there to pick them up and deliver a second seat.
It seems like a terrible lost opportunity, but remember the decision to run fewer candidates was taken when the Sinn Féin ship was in serious need of steadying. There was a pressing need to get back to a previous healthy number of TDs and maybe add a few. That would have been a successful election for them. According to Red C, this could have been an earthquake of an election for them.
But republicans have always played a long game. You may be sure Sinn Féin strategists are looking to the next election already. If they do as well as polls predict in this election, they will be unstoppable by anyone next time out. But as John O’Dowd tweeted a couple of days ago “Polls change nothing. Votes do that.”