Brexit holds sway over Irish Political Landscape

Published by: Richard Colwell


It feels like a somewhat strange situation in Irish politics right now.    The importance of Brexit and the impact it might have, hangs heavily over the political landscape, suffocating pretty much everything else.  Most parties generally support and are working toward the end game of trying to deliver the best possible outcome for Ireland.  This is turn has led to an extension of the supply and confidence agreement, that inevitably makes it hard to land punches for the main opposition of Fianna Fail.

Unlike in London where it appeared that everyone is simply concerned about their own individual success and grab for power, the political parties here appear to have acted more so in the national interest.  The decision by Fianna Fail to renew the confidence and supply agreement was of course a difficult one, but was lauded by many commentators as a true act of sacrifice for the county, that would not go unnoticed.  This poll, the first since the agreement was renewed, suggests the public who might vote for the party may not be as supportive of the stance.  Support for Fianna Fail had been increasing in the later months of 2018 but has fallen back heavily at the start of the year.  The party loses all the gains made in Oct and Nov 2018 to fall back to just 22% support; close to the same level that was obtained at the last general election.  This is a fall of 5% for the party since late November, during which time the renewal of confidence and supply was announced.

It is Independent candidates and smaller parties, such as Solidarity-PBP that appear to be the main beneficiaries of this loss in support for Fianna Fail.  This type of shift in support is a trend often seen, when voters are disgruntled with their current party, but not to the extent that they switch completely to another competitor party.  Instead they tell pollsters that they will vote for an Independent candidate, rather than any party just now.  Thus, the gains that Fianna Fail made when talk of a possible election was at its strongest in the latter part of last year, will give them some solace, that the losses seen today could be re-gained when an actual election is more of a reality.

Fine Gael also see small losses in support in today’s poll, again perhaps because the likelihood of an actual election now appears more distant.  However, there is also some evidence that voters are concerned the party hasn’t done enough to prepare the Irish economy for the worst impact of a possible hard Brexit.  Only a third of all voters 36% feel that the government have made sufficient preparations, with only just under half (48%) of Fine Gael’s own voters also feeling this way, suggesting that there is a lot more work to do for the party to communicate what exactly has been done.  Of course, this proves difficult in a situation where you are also trying to project the position that a hard Brexit won’t happen.

Voters other attitudes to Brexit remain strongly behind the government positions. The majority (70%) support the idea that the Government should refuse to put up hard border infrastructure if there is a hard Brexit.  Certainly, supporting the widely held view that a hard border would be a disaster for Ireland.  Although, how exactly this can be achieved and squared off with the EU, in the event of a hard Brexit seems to something not really considered by voters.

The idea that the Irish Government might also give way on their position regarding the backstop, in order to ease a deal in the UK seems even more unlikely when you see the support that this has among voters.  The majority (64%) do not support the idea that the Irish government might drop the demands for the backstop, to ease the progress of Theresa May’s deal getting through the House of Commons.

The population remains divided on whether Brexit makes a United Ireland more likely.  With similar proportions to those seen in a poll RED C conducted for the EU Movement in May 2018, 43% believe that Brexit does make a United Ireland more likely, while 45% suggest they don’t believe it makes it more likely, and the others remain undecided.  Men are more likely to feel it make a United Ireland more likely, and in particular younger men under the age of 35 – where 57% support the view.   At the same time those living on the border are least likely to support the view, with just 38% feeling that Brexit makes a United Ireland more likely.

Until there is more clarity on exactly what type of Brexit we will end up with, if any – it is unlikely that voter behaviour will change that dramatically.  The result will surely have a significant impact on Fine Gael, either positively in the event of a soft landing or potentially more negatively if a hard Brexit reveal preparations were not adequate to deal with the aftermath.

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January 2019 Poll