Photo credit: Houses of the Oireachtas

The Opportunity that beckons for Aontú

Aontú  – the nation’s newest political party – was founded in January 2019 by former Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibín following his resignation after defying the party whip by voting against the legislation which legalized abortion in Ireland. The fledgling party contested the Irish local elections just four months later, earning a very respectable 25,660 votes and seeing three councilors elected. In the 2020 general election the party saw their vote total increase to 41,575 {1.9% of the total vote} but Toibín remained the party’s only representative in the Dáil as he retained the seat he first won as a Sinn Fein candidate.

Returning to the present day it is clear that the party is at a crossroads which will determine its viability as a part of the Irish political landscape. It is easy to imagine a scenario in which following a poor showing in the next elections. Aontú follows the path of Renua, another conservative-esque political party founded after a split on the issue of abortion that promptly faded into irrelevance following a couple of disappointing election cycles.

To avoid such a fate Aontú must first focus on connecting with voters on a local level. It is no secret Irish politics is a primarily local affair and this dynamic runs especially true for a party with a comparably small national profile. Aontú’s website highlights the work done by its councilors and local representatives on issues relating to the need for an elective hospital in Limerick, bus cancellations in Meath and the fight to preserve Ballincollig fire station in Cork alongside numerous other issues of a local nature across Ireland.

A second need is to create a distinct political identity at the national level. Mostly to avoid the generalization of the party as ‘Pro-life Sinn Fein’ and to prevent the public viewing the party as a single-issue party, that issue of course being abortion. With the referendum settled abortion has taken a backseat in the minds of most Irish voters and Aontú must have something for their volunteers to present at the doorsteps during campaign time that can turn out new voters for the party.

On economic issues the party should attempt to plant itself in the sweet spot between the politics of Fine Gael and the hard-left stances of Sinn Fein which may leave many moderate voters wary. Highlighting the parties record as a principled opposition in contrast to Sinn Fein’s ‘flip flopping’ on issues such as covid lockdowns and climate change is a strategy I would highly recommend {Toibín being awarded ‘best opposition performer’ by Miriam Lord in her end of term review of the most recent Dáil term reinforces my view}. Picking off previously reliable FG/FF voters in rural areas is also key to building a winning coalition. You may ask the best way to do this, and the answer is a very simple one, keep talking about the Green Party and keep the coalition intrinsically linked in the minds of rural voters.

In a similar vein to hammering home the party’s message about their status as a ‘true opposition’ Aontú must take vocal stances on issues overwhelmingly supported by the Irish public yet are seen as beyond the pale in the halls of Dáil Eireann. Opposition to increasing the carbon tax, support for common sense immigration policy and opposition to biological men who identify as transgender competing in women’s sport are all issues that poll incredibly well among the Irish public but run into near universal opposition in the Dáil. Another positive of taking stances on such issues is the media coverage that would be received for doing so which would come in handy should Peadar Toibín once again find himself without an invitation to the RTE leaders debate.

Wrapping up my totally unsolicited advice with a fairly obvious point, invest resources in areas the party can win seats. According to June polling from the Business Post Aontú is the fourth most popular party in Connacht/Ulster and the gap to Fianna Fail in third has been consistently narrowing. Constituencies such as Mayo, Donegal and Cavan-Monaghan provide ample ground for the party to win seats owing to the rural nature of the three constituencies, fallout from the Mica scandal and the retirement of Joe McHugh in Donegal and the presence of an Aontú councilor in Cavan-Monaghan. Pick up opportunities away from the west coast also exist, most notably in Cork North-West where the party put in a strong performance in 2020.

Aontú’s goal heading into the next elections should be to firmly solidify itself as part of the Irish political landscape. Starting in the 2024 local elections which will increase the party’s foothold in local areas and provide them with established politicians to contest future General elections. In relation to the next general election the party must focus on achieving the five seats needed to enjoy full speaking rights in Dáil Eireann and to set the party up for the future.

Niall Jordan

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