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A swathe of the population believe they live in a hellhole, but the evidence suggests otherwise

The pervasiveness of the Sinn Féin narrative is partly down to its adept use of social media to promote its unremittingly negative version of reality

The challenge facing mainstream politicians across the western world in the year ahead will be how to cope with populist opponents who propagate verifiably false claims about the state of the world. This is obviously a problem in the United States, as it heads into an election year with Donald Trump on the campaign trail. But it is also a problem closer to home, with European and local elections in 2024 and a general election some time before spring 2025.

The issue was highlighted during the recent Dáil debate on the motion of confidence in the Government put down by Sinn Féin. In the course of that debate Mary Lou McDonald declared that “it took nearly two weeks for the Government to reach out to the school community” after the horrific attack on schoolchildren and their minder at Choláiste Mhuire in Dublin city centre.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar intervened to say that McDonald “had disgracefully misled the Dáil”, pointing out that State supports had been provided to the school within hours of the attack, while at a political level the Government had been in contact within 24 hours.

He described McDonald’s allegation as “deliberate and misleading” and asked her to withdraw it. Far from being embarrassed, the Sinn Féin leader refused to withdraw her claim, saying: “I am stating the facts, on the record of the Dáil.”


In the debate that followed a number of Ministers, including Minister for Education Norma Foley, pointed out that psychologists from the National Educational Psychological Service rushed to the scene within hours and provided support to the teachers, parents and wider community not just on the day but over the following weeks.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe, who represents the constituency, made the more serious allegation that McDonald was fully informed of the facts before she made her false claim, yet she not only proceeded to make it but refused to withdraw it. It prompted junior minister Josepha Madigan to dub the Sinn Féin leader “Mary Lou Trump”.

The wider point about the inaccurate claim, as Donohoe pointed out in the Dáil, is that it is part of a pattern whereby Sinn Féin seeks to promote a narrative that not only the Government but the State and its institutions are not simply incompetent, but lack compassion and don’t care about the people they are employed to serve.

This goes far beyond normal Opposition criticism of the Government. It is a much more insidious message that everything about the State is so flawed, or even malign, that it needs to be swept away to make room for Sinn Féin’s vision of a workers’ republic.

Of course it should come as no surprise that a party that didn’t recognise the legitimacy of the Dáil, wouldn’t take its seats until 1997, and still declines to support the existence of the Special Criminal Court, has so little respect for the State. The surprise is that so many voters appear to share its antipathy to the institutions that by and large serve them well.

The reality is that Ireland has never been more prosperous or had better public services. Yet a large swathe of the population has been prepared to buy into the notion that they actually live in some sort of hellhole. Young people may be forgiven for believing it, but those old enough to have experienced the Ireland of the past should consider their options very carefully before chucking out the baby with the bathwater.

The pervasiveness of the Sinn Féin narrative is partly down to its adept use of social media to promote its unremittingly negative version of reality. Up to recently it has come under little pressure from the mainstream media to justify its past record, never mind an examination of what its promises of a radically different future will involve.

It is not easy for Government politicians to counter the negative propaganda of those who have no scruples about making claims that have no basis in fact, but they need to make a far more determined effort than they have been doing. The victory of Donald Tusk in the recent election in Poland provided a shining example of how centrist politicians can defeat the populists, if they have the courage to take their message to the people in a strong, confident and coherent fashion.

The outcome of the recent Dáil debate should give Government parties the confidence to take a similarly robust line in dealing with its vociferous critics. They can take heart from the fact that the Sinn Féin motion of confidence in Helen McEntee boomeranged on the Opposition party.

This was because Government TDs availed of the opportunity to defend their record and remind Sinn Féin of the reprehensible behaviour over three decades of the Republican movement it represents. The result was that the Coalition easily won the confidence motion in the Dáil with the support of Independents. Maybe even more crucially the speeches of Government TDs from all three Coalition parties indicated a new degree of confidence in themselves. They may even be daring to believe that the next election is not the foregone conclusion so many have predicted.