Simon Harris blasts Sinn Fein’s election performance as ‘unmitigated disaster’

The Irish premier has branded Sinn Fein’s performance in the council elections as an “unmitigated disaster”, but has refused to call an early general election despite government parties performing better than expected.

It comes as the leader of Sinn Fein said she is “sorry” that her candidates did not perform better in Ireland’s local elections, amid criticism of the party’s strategy in the council races.

Mary Lou McDonald made the comments as vote counting continues for Ireland’s local and European elections.

Simon Harris said that the Irish public did not want to “buy what Sinn Fein were selling”.

European and local elections
Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald speaking to the media at the Royal Dublin Society during the count for the European elections (Damien Storan/PA)

Mr Harris also accused Ms McDonald of making comments that were “quite insulting” to the Irish people when she tried to “second guess” them.

Speaking at the RDS count centre in south Dublin, Mr Harris said: “I was very disappointed to hear her comments in relation to, ‘maybe the people on this occasion didn’t really understand this’.

“The people of this country are sovereign.

“As I travelled around the country, I think the people knew exactly what Sinn Fein were selling, and they just didn’t want to buy it.”

He added: “I think what Sinn Fein needs to realise here is that the Irish people will see through the noise.

“The Irish people don’t believe they live in a failed state.

“The Irish people don’t believe in all of the negativity and the ‘rah rah rah’ but the Irish people want is pragmatic delivery.

“The Irish people do want change.

“They want credible change.

“That’s the sort of change I’m offering with Fine Gael and our coalition colleagues.

“This is the second local election that Mary Lou McDonald has had the honour of leading her party into, it’s the second local elections that have been an unmitigated disaster for them.

“They can carry out all the reviews they want, I don’t get distracted by their business.

“Leadership issues in Sinn Fein are a matter for Sinn Fein.”

Asked why he would not call a general election off the back of the results, Mr Harris said: “Because we’ve lots to do”.

Earlier, Ms McDonald said she was “disappointed” that more of her candidates were not elected.

Early indications show there will be no Sinn Fein surge, while Government parties do not appear to have suffered a major electoral blow.

The fuller picture of the state of play for political parties and independents will become clear throughout the evening.

Commentators have noted that Sinn Fein’s strategy in some constituencies had led to its vote being split too much.

Ms McDonald said: “Clearly, we didn’t get that right.”

She added: “It’s not just the number of the candidates, but the fact that in so many cases they were first-time candidates.”

Speaking at a count centre in Dublin, Ms McDonald said: “We have made some gains, they are modest, but they’re there.

“It hasn’t been our day.

“Clearly frustrations – anger indeed – with government policy on this occasion has translated into votes for independents and others.

“We have to now prepare ourselves for the general election, whenever that will happen.

“We’ll take time to reflect.”

European and local elections
Counting staff at Cork City Hall sort ballots for the local elections (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Asked about whether the lacklustre result would affect her leadership, Ms McDonald said she “absolutely” committed to staying on in the role.

“I will lead this reflection and this process,” she said.

Irish voters have voted to elect almost 1,000 new councillors, 14 members to the European Parliament and, for the first time, one city’s citizens were asked to pick their mayor.

European and local elections
Tanaiste Micheal Martin speaks to the media at Cork City Hall (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Despite winning 24.5% of first preference votes in a historic result in the 2020 general election, and hovering above 30% in opinion polls for a long time, the fate of many of Sinn Fein’s candidates is expected to depend on transfers.

However, Sinn Fein has made some gains on the 2019 election, where it won around 9% of first preference votes and 81 council seats out of 949.

Ireland’s deputy premier Micheal Martin said that “the moral of the story” of the Irish elections was that polling should not be taken “as gospel”.

The Tanaiste and Fianna Fail leader said that there had been 15 national opinion polls, which had Fianna Fail averaging at 16% and Sinn Fein averaging at 26.6%.

He said internet polling “has flaws” and does not capture “the dynamic” of an electoral campaign, or various other factors including personality, geography and policies.

Despite the strong showing for government parties so far, ministers stuck to the line that the coalition government would “go the full distance” to February or March before a general election is called.

Mr Martin said he would not be making the “error” of drawing conclusions from the local election results about a future general election, saying that it would have a different dynamic and cover different issues.

The full results of the European and local elections will take days to be finalised thanks to Ireland’s system of proportional representation which allows voters to rank every candidate in each race by order of preference.

The process means ballot papers are sorted and counted multiple times by hand.

Counting in the European elections began on Sunday morning and the results of the first tally will not be declared until after 10pm because of ongoing voting in other EU states.

Irish politics is currently dominated by a housing crisis, the cost of living and migration.

The coalition partnership of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party has been battling criticism domestically and on the continent over other issues including climate action, agriculture policy and defence co-operation in the EU.

Political parties have been relying on opinion polls to judge voter sentiment for the previous four years since the last nationwide elections.

European and local elections
Counting starts at Curragh Racecourse, County Kildare, for local and European elections (Niall Carson/PA)

The results will also be an indicator of how new Fine Gael leader and Mr Harris is faring, having assumed the roles some eight weeks ago after the shock resignation of Leo Varadkar.

The first results for the European elections will not be announced until polling closes in each member state late tonight.

In Dublin, incomplete tallies suggested Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews and Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty were leading.

Green Party incumbent Ciaran Cuffe, Independent Ireland candidate Niall Boylan, Labour representative Aodhan O Riordain and Sinn Fein hopefuls Daithi Doolan and Lynn Boylan will be fighting over the remaining two seats.

In the South constituency, Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly and Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher are in strong position to be re-elected, but a first count is not expected until Monday morning.

Sinn Fein will be hoping to regain a seat in the region with Kathleen Funchion, while Independent TD Michael McNamara is predicted to take a seat.

European and local elections
Candidate Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan in Castlebar (Niall Carson/PA)

In Midlands-North-West, there are 27 candidates fighting for five seats in the massive electoral region which spans 15 counties.

Fine Gael is running former jockey Nina Carberry alongside incumbent MEP Maria Walsh, while Fianna Fail has fielded three candidates: Lisa Chambers, Barry Cowen and Niall Blaney.

Doubt has been raised over Sinn Fein’s chances after splitting the vote with two hopefuls: current MEP Chris MacManus and Michelle Gildernew.

Observers eyeballing stacks of ballots processed by first-preference determined the main contenders, by midday, were Ms Walsh, Mr Cowen and Independent candidate Luke “Ming” Flanagan, with Ms Carberry, Ms Chambers, Mr MacManus, Aontu leader Peadar Toibin and former RTE correspondent Ciaran Mullooly also performing well.

Speaking to reporters at the TF Royal count centre in Castlebar, Co Mayo, Mr Flanagan said: “There’s quite a lot of candidates here who are going to get a significant amount of votes and I think it’s nearly odds on that we’re going to have some sort of a recount.

“All I know is we booked a place to stay for the next week in Castlebar.”

In the south west, voters in Limerick city and county also had the opportunity to directly elect a mayor with executive powers on long-term strategic planning.

Tallies show that Independent candidate John Moran, a former secretary general at the Department of Finance, is in the lead, with Independent candidate Helen O’Donnell in second place.