Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein battle it out for title of leader of the Irish opposition

So did anyone see the great Micheal V Gerry fight on PrimeTime last night? RTE billed it as the ‘who truly is the leader of the Opposition?‘ gig. But at the end of the day it turned out to be a bit of a damp squib.

As Mary Murphy notes in the pre roll from Katie Hannon, Irish politics is generally geared to winning elections rather than making proposals for better government.

The lack of support for the re-introduction of a household charge from either party has to be a nod to the rural constituencies where suspicion of Dublin government is at it’s height…

It’s particularly odd coming from Fianna Fail, who first took delivery of the order to levy one from the Troika.

Yet considering they are targeting a lot of rural seats out west where they’re looking for a simple differentiator between them and the FG incumbents, who ‘stole’ them so recently, perhaps not so odd after all.

The debate was unruly at times. But we got a sense of the scale of the battle Fianna Fail is trying to prosecute. Mention of controversial cuts in the Deis school programme is a cut not at Adams, but Labour’s Education Minister Ruarai Quinn.

He also got in talking points for the aspirant middle class (who turned away from the party massively in Dublin) with reference to a whole raft high profile US companies and then suggesting that Sinn Fein’s wealth tax proposals would cripple the country (which is about the time all hell broke loose).

He also suggested that Sinn Fein’s proposed abolition of company group relief as ‘Corporation Tax by the back door’. Harsh, possibly unfair, but he got a message across.

In the dying moments of the contest, Adams produced the gift that’s been giving for nearly two years now, the reference to Martin’s position in power for nearly fourteen years.

But the FF leader flashed back Adams’ own unacknowledged role in the deaths caused by the IRA. Not pretty, certainly not original. But probably effective, and in all likelihood endlessly replicable.

Adams still does not do southern politics well. Martin may not be a prize fighter, but Adams looked like a boxer mouthing for air on a couple of occasions.

The lack of detail in his responses an indication that many of SF’s arguments are too general, and still a long way from battle ready.

The end was scrappy for both men. It may have looked like two bald men fighting over a comb, but we’ve seen a signal Fianna Fail’s phoney war is over.

That’s something we knew was coming at the conclusion of the referendum debates on the Fiscal Compact. That campaign was full of too many unforced errors from Sinn Fein.

Ultimately it may be unforced errors that circumscribe the difference in the near term fortunes between these two opposition parties. ‘All kinds of everything’ can win you a permanent seat at the ‘security council’ we call the Northern Ireland Executive.

But winning substantial political prizes in the Republic is a much more complex and demanding affair…

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  • Mc Slaggart

    There is an excellent thread on that ran live during the debate.

  • Mc Slaggart

    “Adams still does not do southern politics well.”

    According to he is getting some things correct.

    “Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams is down three to 39 percent ” which is around the same as the other political party leaders. (Kenny 38 , Gilmore 33, Martin 34)

    “Sinn Féin are up one percentage point to 18 percent and remains the second most popular party.”

  • Mick Fealty

    Any change less than -/+ 3% is no change… 30% is a red line for FG… Really, nothing much to see there, yet…

  • Dixie Elliott

    More of a bitching match than a debate.

    Martin’s last minute dig about IRA killings was pathetic as was Adam’s stunned silence. Most people would’ve pointed out that the British and Unionist paramiliataries also killed innocents, on many occassions they did so together.

    It could also have been pointed out to Martin that 100s of civilians were killed during the Easter Rising and that the good old IRA killed many civilians.

    However Martin need only have pointed out that Adams abandoned the people of West Belfast leaving that area the most underdeprived not only in the North but in the whole of the so called ‘UK’.

  • Mick Fealty

    That was largely a blocking punch at the end. a handy way to kill the you ruined the country line. Utilitarian. My thought is that FF would relish a rematch on economics more than SF.

    Gerry is right about his team tho. Trouble is with his own poor grasp of party policy he does them no justice.

  • HeinzGuderian

    “Martin’s last minute dig about IRA killings was pathetic as was Adam’s stunned silence. Most people would’ve pointed out that the British and Unionist paramiliataries also killed innocents, on many occassions they did so together.”

    What ? Whataboutery ? Never…
    The salient fact is that pira murdered more people than any other single ‘combatants’…….gerry’s stunned silence is something he better get used to……

  • Lionel Hutz

    I heard what I thought was a wonderful way to sum up the difference between the two on the economy:

    “Fianna Fail may have destroyed the country, but atleast they know how they did it!”

    Made me laugh anyway………..

  • Mick,
    As you say, +/- 3% makes no difference. So, looking at the heading, is there really any battle?

  • Mc Slaggart


    What is intresting is the trends.

    The reason why FF agreed to this debate surprised me. The natural party of goverment should not even hint that they think someone else is a major opposition party.

    It implies that FF are getting the feedback that SF are in a position to be the major party of opposition.

  • Henry94

    I’d rather be in Sinn Fein’s position (not yet trusted on the economy) than Fianna Fail’s (Were trusted but never will be again)

    Neither will be in power after the next election but Sinn Fein’s path to credibility is easier. But they have to walk it.

  • Mick Fealty


    There’s two different fights going on here.

    – I suspect FF wanted this because they knew Martin would cane Adams on policy.

    – Also, any publicity is good publicity in an Irish media that tends to obsess on government parties to the exclusion of all else.

    – Thirdly, they needed a chance early on to start working on a large canvass and begin to kill off the idea that SF is in fact the larger party when (in pure terms of numbers) that’s merely what the polls say.

    There’s a comparison here to be made with the US where although it looks tight in terms of aggregate federal popularity, once you factor the machinery of government, Obama looks almost uncatchable at this stage.

    FF need to cut out of this political twinning with what remains a much smaller political party that Dublin’s pol corrs have been susceptable to and start getting them themselves matched up in the public imagination against Labour and FG. That’s where the bulk of the votes are.

    SF have a different game going on. They are winning already, regardless of how scraps like this one go. But they will have to close that credibility gap on they economy if they want to pick up actual votes from Dublin C2s from Labour in any numbers…

    Indirectly that’s where Adams was scrumming against Martin here. Martin, as Henry rightly notes, has a big big problem there. These guys are f***ed rightly and royally, and they only blame one party for that. And that’s Martin’s.

    Time will tell whether he can make them an offering that will tempt them back. Economic competence and respectability are the only two cards they’ve got in this game. And that’s exactly what Martin was dealing them here.

    Choosing the right cards from a limited only shows an intelligent instinct for survival, it does not guarantee. There’s a long way go before the next election, and a lot of political miles to travel. And for FF and SF, no silver bullet to guarantee perfect progress.

    It will test the mettal of both, severely.

  • Mc Slaggart

    “I suspect FF wanted this because they knew Martin would cane Adams on policy. ”

    It could very well be that they thought that Martin would beat Adams on policy.

    I like Martin and dislike Adams on an instictive level.

    At the end of the dabate the “rat boy” tag being associated with Martin I could see sticking. Not fair not nice but he did give that impression.

    Adams did his fake presidential bit and people go for it????

    “begin to kill off the idea that SF is in fact the larger party ”

    SF according to many has a good team where FF has Martin. If that is the best Martin can do aginst Adams one wonders how bad the rest are?

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s an Adams’ talking point from the debate, it’s not something that’s necessarily going to carry weight in the debate the Republic. We live in la la land compared to what the south is going through.

    Competence is a major issue.

    Michael McGrath and Timmy Dooley may not be household names in Northern Ireland, and they still have a way to before they get the recognition of Doherty or Mary Lou, but they know their stuff, and in the case of Dooley, he took Padraig Mac L out of any further TV appearances during the referendum after just one round on TWIP.