New Yorker Journalist Explains Major Shift in Irish Politics

Two weeks ago, the Republic of Ireland underwent a seismic political change. Sinn Fein, a left-wing nationalist party, made huge gains in the general election – a surprise that has seen Prime Minister Leo Varadkar ousted from power. New Yorker journalist and “Say Nothing” author Patrick Radden Keefe joins Christiane to discuss this major change.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: What can you tell us about this surprise surge, and should we be a surprise, that Sinn Fein, which many people have known as the political wing of the IRA, as a political movement has surged to the top of elected office now?

PATRICK RADDEN KEEFE, AUTHOR, “SAY NOTHING”: I think we should be surprised. I mean, it’s a real seismic result in the Irish elections. This is a political movement that, as you say, started out as the political wing of the IRA and entered electoral politics in the 1980s in Northern Ireland and gradually, gradually built up support. But until quite recently, as recently as just a couple of years ago, it was a pretty marginal player in the Republic of Ireland. And so, to see them come out with the results that they have is pretty shocking.

AMANPOUR: You’ve obviously done a lot of work on this. You say shocking. What do you think it’s all about? Why did they do so well?

KEEFE: Well, I think they positioned themselves as a party of change in a situation where the Republic of Ireland has really for the century have been dominated by two center right parties, which are rivals, but in terms of policy can seem pretty indistinguishable. And there was a great deal of dissatisfaction among the electorate in Ireland over real pocketbook issues, you know, jobs, pensions, health care, housing. And Sinn Fein came in and pushed really hard on those issues and it was almost a kind of Bernie Sanders type message of change and made a lot of promises about what they’ll be able to deliver and essentially said, the status quo is not working and we’ll be something different here. That is a different political complexion and cast than we’ve seen with Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, where it’s historically been this party that’s pushing for Irish republicanism for the unification of Ireland. And so, I think by positioning itself in this way in the republic, it was able to bring a lot of young voters into the fold, a lot of people that hadn’t voted, and meet with this unprecedented success.

About This Episode EXPAND

New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe joins Christiane to analyze the seismic political change taking place in Ireland. 1960s icon Jane Birkin reflects on her relationship with Serge Gainsbourg and her extraordinary life. Tanzina Vega chats with Heather Boushey, one of Washington’s most influential voices on economic policy.