Next Saturday sees voting in our general election take place. The front runners are Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein - Tweedledee, Tweedledum and Tweedleduh.
The rise of Sinn Fein, in the polls at any rate, is making the headlines. So, why RTE continues to deny Mary Lou McDonald the opportunity to participate in its showpiece leaders' debate seems wholly without justification. The Red C Poll places her at the top of the poll alongside Micheal Martin of Fianna Fail, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael trailing behind. Yet next Tuesday evening's debate is between Martin and Varadkar. At the very least even if the broadcaster wants to grudgingly reverse position, it can do so on the grounds that people with McDonald's level of approval need to have their ideas exposed to public scrutiny. Either way RTE is doing the public a disservice through denying her the podium to promote her perspective and by failing to have that perspective critically scrutinised.
Because it is much the same as the other parties Sinn Fein will be no better or worse in government. They will break their promises and blame everybody else for preventing them implementing their programme. There will be no retention of the pension age at 65, no additional new houses, no extra hospital beds, no more anything. Just the same old same old to the ring of vacuous claims that without it in government, the situation would have been much worse: a what it had, it held sort of nonsense. Sinn Fein while having many good members is essentially a political career structure. Its participation in the Northern administration saw absolutely nothing radical emerge while the community that elected its ineffectual MLAs was the subject of austerity measures which the party did little or nothing to prevent. Sinn Fein is not about bringing structural change but is very much about managing the current structure, making talk about a united Ireland vacuous waffle.
What the growing popularity of Sinn Fein does suggest is that once the party got former President Gerry Adams to step aside, although hardly down, the party became more voter friendly. The stench of decomposition that simply oozed from the pores of the Provisional IRA's former chief of staff made him as huggable as a skunk in the noses of too many voters. For long enough Mary Lou McDonald looked to be under pressure given some poor electoral outings and a disastrous Presidential foray. With the articulate and economically literate Pearse Doherty hovering too close for comfort, there was some speculation that her days as the appointed one were over. No more. Her rise in the polls has guaranteed her tenure for the foreseeable future. Although it is worth bearing in mind that "at a point during the last election campaign, in 2016, Sinn Fein was on 20pc in the polls."
As Jody Corcoran has pointed out "the issue is not Sinn Fein per se, it is also Fine Gael. The real question of this election is just how badly Fine Gael will do." If the polls are borne out it might well be the end of Varadkar's tenure as Fine Gael leader. A disastrous end for one so young with what looked like a long stay at the top. The writer Jim Duffy has opined that he is finished if the result is a repetition of the Noonan disaster, after which many wrongly predicted the demise of Fine Gael. Varadkar's best hope is a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein coalition with his own party across the chamber with enough seats to make an effective opposition.
Whatever the outcome, this time next week, next month, next year, people will still be sleeping on the streets and lying on hospital trollies. An Ireland of the future is not an Ireland of equals.