Dublin’s Mansion House was awash with green, white and orange – complete with a horse and cart at the gates – as Sinn Féin launched its election manifesto.
The site of the first Dáil in 1918, which returned a Sinn Féin majority, was chosen by the party to reflect its hope for a historic gain at the ballot box with 42 candidates in 32 constituencies.
Buoyed by recent opinion polling which showed the party neck-and-neck with Fine Gael, more than 100 delegates, MLAs, senators, would-be TDs and even babies in buggies gathered in the Round Room to hear the party set out its stall as the “only real alternative” to the two major parties.
Actress Fionnuala Flanagan took to the stage first to list the achievements of the party in recent years.
— Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile ⭕️ (@NiallSF) January 21, 2020
She was followed by John Finucane, MP for North Belfast, who spelled out the party’s stance on unity.
Mr Finucane, who took his seat from DUP stalwart Nigel Dodds, said the party had made history and “ended the unionist majority in the north forever”, while setting out the “challenges for Republicans” in creating a diverse and inclusive united Ireland.
TD Pearse Doherty, dubbed “the scourge of the establishment” by party leader Mary Lou McDonald, delivered a speech decrying the “posh boys” in Fine Gael.
“They know that the stronger Sinn Féin gets, the more people respond to our message, their power and privilege will come to an end,” he said.
“And I’m not one to pass comment on opinion polls, but what is clear is the two most recent opinion polls show Sinn Féin neck-and-neck with Fine Gael.
“We represent the greatest hope for those who want this country to be run in the interests of its people.”
At Sinn Féin’s manifesto launch today, @PearseDoherty criticised the “posh boys” in Fine Gael who have shown a “heartlessness and lack of empathy” for those struggling in Irish society. pic.twitter.com/omEeUjjFm0
— aoife-grace moore. (@aoifegracemoore) January 21, 2020
Ms McDonald took to the stage last and took the audience back 100 years.
“In this election, we remain the inheritors of the revolutionary vision of Markievicz, MacSwiney and Mellows,” she said before taking aim at the “three wise men of failed government” – Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Labour leader Brendan Howlin and Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin.
“At times of economic prosperity, at times of recession and during times of recovery, the story for workers and families has remained the same,” she said.
“Under Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, those at the top are protected, they prosper in good times and in bad.
“Workers and families, those who do the heavy lifting in Irish society, are told to wait at the back for a break that never comes.
“Sinn Féin wants to end this cycle. We want to transform Irish politics and change our country.”
Health and housing remain top priorities for the party, and are seen as the most emotive categories on the doorsteps as the homeless crisis and trolley numbers continue to dominate headlines.
An Irish national health service, more nurses and beds, and “delivering the biggest public housing building programme Ireland has ever seen”, were cited as the “real alternative” policies to the “status quo”.
The event ended with a standing ovation for former leader Gerry Adams, who is not contesting the election.
Mr Adams – who has grown his hair since Stormont collapsed – was described by Ms McDonald as “going from Pierce Brosnan to Barry Gibb”, and clapped along with the crowds before hugging his party colleagues.