Stephen Donnelly (late of the Social Democrats) joins Fianna Fail…

Interesting breaking news in the south concerning Wicklow/East Carlow Independent TD Stephen Donnelly. As The Journal notes “sources say the Wicklow TD had been “actively interested” in joining a political party.”

He had been a founding member of the Social Democrats till last summer.

He’s shown an impressive grasp of policy ever since coming into the Dail in the wake FF’s defenestration in 2011, but I suspect his search for a party home is born out of frustration at having little speaking time in the Dail, and the inability to scale his ambitions.

It’s a coup for Martin, and not just because it consolidates numbers but because he’s a quality player. His recruitment also helps underwrite a narrative germ from the last election (and a clear component of the Fianna Fail leader’s statement today):

… [the] process of rebuilding continues and the decision of Deputy Stephen Donnelly to join our team is very encouraging.  Stephen has made a serious impact nationally in his time as a TD.

In his various roles he has demonstrated a commitment to the principles of fairness and social democracy that underpin the values and policies of the Fianna Fáil party.

According to the Irish Times, he’s being slotted in on the front bench as spokesman for Brexit. Since the government don’t have one (insisting it’s not needed) we should watch this space to see if Donnelly’s inputs force a change of heart on the part of the government.

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  • Fear Éireannach

    I welcome this. Donnelly is very able and will bring real insight to the Brexit debate, and all sense is needed for this one.

  • mac tire

    Have to agree with you, Mick – this is indeed a coup for FF. A good operator all round.

  • Donagh

    There’ll be tantrums from the barrister in Greystones though with less room on the next ticket.

  • Paul Culloty

    This could seriously backfire on Donnelly – his electoral appeal was heavily based on being an independent critic on economic policy, and historically, Irish political defectors rarely succeed in their new incarnation. With a new election expected in 12 months, there’s no guarantee that he’ll even retain his seat!

  • mac tire

    You make valid points but wasn’t Donnelly sort of viewed as FF gene pool anyway?


    Certainly no surprise,It was speculated on for some time
    It was Fine Gael or Fianna Fail, it was no contest.Fine Gael on the way
    down. Fianna Fail on the way up..He will fit in well,Listening to him on the
    radio when he was an Independent, in the Social Democrats telling us all that is wrong with Fianna fail. No bother to him to duck and weave the questions No credibility now, Fair play to those that predicted this a few years ago.

  • mickfealty

    Nearly two quotas between them both, and he has a handy wee machine there.

  • mickfealty

    Took a bit of a hammering from Mary Wilson on Drivetime, with some embarrassing quotes of what he’d said in the past…

  • mac tire

    Heard that. Not a good start. And he wants the 8th repealed. That may not go down well among many FFers.


    For some reason i never heard Mary take such a tough lne.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    He’s been fluttering his eyelashes at FF for some time now. It’s been a long interview in the Dail. He’s got the job.

    Why is my feed full of pictures of an old guy kitesurfing with a naked woman on his back? It’s hardly appropriate, and a bit off putting tbh.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Defectors do quite well up in Northern Ireland though.

  • mickfealty

    Sounded uncharacteristically passionate at times I thought. Like she was dealing with an apostate?

  • mickfealty

    It is. We’re trying to get it fixed. Disqus sprung it on us last night without much warning.

  • Paul Culloty

    The two FG TDs (Doyle, Harris) are both safe, as is SF’s Brady. In the case of Colm Keaveney, it proved that FF voters stuck to original FFers, so he could be fighting for seat five with a revived Labour (Wicklow a traditional heartland) and, ironically, a Soc Dem Councillor who Donnelly had groomed to be his successor.

  • mickfealty

    In theory, yes. His base is [much] bigger than Keaveney’s though, and the transition less traumatic. Different part of the cycle too.

  • His interview today with Mary Wilson on Drivetime reminded me of George Hook’s interview with Colm Keaveney when he made the switch in 2013, though Hook was particularly brutal in that interview.

  • Ian Rate

    I’ve always enjoyed listening to him and thought his arguments well considered but

    clearly he has been hit on the head with a very hard object.
    I can’t , won’t forgive Fianna Fail.

  • Jag

    I thought he would have joined the Government (which is being propped up by the deeply controversial Michael Lowry), where he would have been welcomed with open arms even as an Independent (like Katherine Zappone), and with 33 ministerial positions, Enda could have found him a position, no problem.

    I would like to see if this consummate management consultant can be an effective minister, he’s definitely an effective parliamentarian (in the Opposition) though, after an outstanding four years from 2011, he has been uncharacteristically muted in the past year.

    Getting it on with FF has been coming for years, it’s no surprise that he ended up there rather than FG or SF.

  • mickfealty

    The atomisation of the second of the two large parties last has created enormous competition in the others section for voice.

    I dare say Martin’s modest style and serious approach to policy is probably the main attraction. Couldn’t see him jumping to FF for a Biffo or Bertie.

    We’ll see how he cuts it on the front bench, and whether he can make some hay. Martin needs to build capacity before going into government, and talent is short supply in every party.

    There’s not much to be said for management consultants per se, but I am impressed he did mechanical engineering at UCD.

    That base in Wicklow got him top of the poll in a competitive field, which suggests hes of a practical turn of mind and not intoxicated by the mystique of LH.

  • Roger

    Democratic Left? Didn’t they all become Ministers and take over Labour.

  • Croiteir

    Remember the Labour Party member for East Galway? Me neither

  • mickfealty

    They put Pat Casey out on Morning Ireland this morning. Probably a good call, since Casey played it pretty straight. Uncomfortable for him personally, but the right thing to do. Mentioned the capacity building thing.

    Judging by the vox pops though, Donnelly had a lot of old Labour type FF haters in his base.

    He’s really going to need to deliver the goods on Brexit to help deliver those ‘wait and see’ voters to get FF two seats at the next election.

  • Jag

    Wouldn’t disagree with any of that Mick, just still scratching the noggin over Stephen’s decision not to enter the current government, where he’d keep his independence and would get a ministry (33 amongst 55-odd TDs, it’s not hard).

    Paddy Power thinks it’s a near dead cert there’ll be an election in 2017, so maybe that’s part of the calculation. Mind you, FF is struggling between 25-30% in the polls, enough to top the polls, but 20 bodies short of a majority.

  • He’s certainly got the ability, so I don’t doubt whether he can deliver in his Brexit role. It’s just a question of whether he’ll be able to withstand the turncoat label that followed Keaveney after he joined Fianna Fáil.

    Having ran 2 candidates in 2011 and 2016 in Wicklow, it’ll be interesting to see how Fianna Fáil manage any internal beef in the constituency with Donnelly joining the party fold and taking someone else’s previous candidacy. I’ll assume they’ve already done their prep work on that front.

    I noted how, in the Drivetime interview, he described Micheál Martin as a “republican social democrat” and Donnelly himself as strictly a “social democrat”; making the social democratic parallel, but stopping short of the nationalistic label for himself. Made me a bit curious to know more about the party’s internal republican and social democratic wings, and possibly other party wings for that matter.

  • mickfealty

    I don’t doubt his potential or his record, all I mean is that he will have to serve it up in such a way that both he and FF gain substantial political capital.

    Kevin Rafter in his book on Fine Gael suggested these large coverall parties take their inflection almost exclusively from the leader. I don’t think there’s wings in the party as such. It’s not something they seem to entertain.

    In one sense Ireland is not big enough for ‘that kind of carry on’ and in another of course STV shreds policy based coherence in parties. Republicanism is taken as read in the party, I guess it’s Donnelly just pointing out that he wouldn’t sit on the greenest end of the spectrum.

    FF is centerist which means it needs to straddle that left right divide. For now (whilst FG have that space in government) that means leaning (slightly) to the left.

  • I’ve noticed how Martin’s been keen to present he and his party as “a bit to the left” as he said last year, whilst making a point of attacking the “right-wing” Fine Gael. It’s interesting that he doesn’t shy away from associating his party with the label of the left, even if it is a rather moderated form. Sure, it’s motivated by the present political context, but I’m not totally sure it’s a temporary measure.

    With a red flag left in AAA-PBP and a green flag left in the Shinners, there hasn’t been such a loud, upfront left-wing presence like this in the south since the Workers’ Party’s 7 TD’s, and it doesn’t look like disappearing anytime soon either.

    I think Martin is simply manoeuvring his party; finding an identifiable place, albeit compatible with their characteristic catch-all approach, for Fianna Fáil in a southern political landscape that has developed a more visibly left-right axis. The centre-left image is alluring to the former Labour voter who, although melted with their party, stop short of rowing in behind the likes of PBP and Sinn Féin.

    So, yes, they’re certainly grounded in their centrism, but this is accompanied by a few leftist overtones. If opinion polling in recent months is anything to go by, it seems to be working.


    Nobody reminded him that Michael Martin sat at the cabinet table as a Fianna Fail
    government destroyed our economy and brought in the I.M F.

  • He has no shortage of critical Fianna Fáil statements in the past to his name, so he’ll inevitably get such material hurled at him plenty of times from here on out until the next Dáil election.

    The Drivetime interview wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, probably because it was only for 5 minutes or so, but I think he’ll soon get a media grilling similar to that George Hook gave Colm Keaveney back in 2013 sooner or later.

  • harmlessdrudge

    No. Donnelly was not FF gene pool except in so far as any pro-business politician is part of it.

    He entered politics to fight everything that FF stood for: cronyism, cute hoorism, strokes, corruption, jobs for the boys, and whatever you’re having yourself, and all the rest of it. And he was clearly smart and articulate and different, and people liked the idea of ending the civil war divisions and a fresh start, and they voted accordingly. That is why he topped the poll last time around. He was a prominent NONE OF THE ABOVE candidate, untainted by corruption or cynical political opportunism.

    There is a story yet to be told about how the SocDems came unstuck, of how front benchers pulled out of last minute defections and of how the whole thing ended up as a revolution that might have been. So far Donnelly isn’t talking and his former co-leaders are rubbishing him every chance they get. He put up with a lot on that front and took the high road, to his credit I think.

    Nevertheless, his joining FF, the party he entered politics to oppose is stomach churning and simply cannot fail to further alienate people already in despair about politics in this republic. Personally, I will forgive him if he uses the power he seeks in ways that appear wise over the long term, by, for example, ensuring the introduction of an anti-corruption body. In essence, if Donnelly takes over Fianna Fail rather than the other way around.

    Time will tell.

    The real driver for this was not naked opportunism on Donnelly’s part. It was the failure of the SocDems to achieve the historic breakthrough they were briefly on course to make, followed by insane control freakery by his co-leaders who ganged up against him and locked him out of all decisions, appointing their friends once they control of the state funds. He was marginalised and frustrated very deliberately by two left-wingers who saw him as a right-wing male threat, not the star of the show. That was bound to end badly, and it did.

    I’d have thought that Fine Gael would be a more natural home in some respects but, in the grander scheme of things, the term “narcissism of small differences” has some resonance. For now let it just be recorded that having rightly and justly excoriated the party of gombeenism, of Charlies Haughey and McCreevey, and Ray McSharry, and Bertie the brilliant horse handicapper and all others who have dishonoured the Irish people with their venal parish-pump approach to politics (and worse), Donnelly has seen fit to join them.

    It’s a national tragedy that we couldn’t find someone to scuttle this horrible holed-below-the-waterline FF bark, as unfit for our country today as the Catholic church of Charles McQuaid.

    So much for Donnelly’s rhetoric about the traditional parties and their less than 50% share of the votes and “new politics”. He can hardly be surprised if the 30 pieces of silver is invoked, but then nor can we. The man lives in rented accommodation and has put not just his heart and soul into the job, but a share of what others with small children might by now have invested in bricks and mortar. He is not, in fact, “on the make”.

    I’ve read things he’s written and have no doubt that he’s as good a citizen we could find to be a public servant (he has already saved taxpayers billions and has shamed the dept of finance in so doing). The other parties know it and were all keen for him to jump their way. That he felt comfortable jumping FF’s way is not just an indictment of him, if it is, but of the electorate that has repeatedly and knowingly voted for crooks because “they deliver” local pothole fixes and other benefits at the expense of all their fellow citizens. If Donnelly turns out to be secret agent for integrity it hardly matters what party he ends up in.

    I’m not convinced that Donnelly will overcome the Fianna Fail immune system.

  • mac tire

    So, if FG were on 30% in the polls he would have jumped into bed with them?
    He’s a smooth operator but seemingly only interested in power, in my view. FF will eat him alive if he pushes his luck.

  • harmlessdrudge

    I don’t think the current polls would have been much of a consideration (electorally FG and FF are tweedledum and tweedledee; future choices will be one or other or both) and that the effort to recruit him would have mattered more. FF were likely keener to get him.

    Q. is: is joining FF a bigger betrayal than joining FG?

    My stomach says yes; head says wait and see. MANY will be completely disillusioned.

  • mac tire

    Well, your points appear to be borne out by some of the palpable anger I have seen online about this.

    I wonder how Ó Cuív, Calleary, McGrath, Cowen et al will react to it privately.

    It could turn out a right mess for Donnelly if his former voters are annoyed at what he has done and potential FF voters are annoyed at such an ardent critic running under the party banner.

  • harmlessdrudge

    If Donnelly were to either sink or reform Fianna Fail that would be quite a notabl e development for Irish politics.

    Did he bring a long spoon?

    In my book FF is a party of crooks, incompetents, chancers, gombeens and the most repulsive holier-than-thou republicans. His supporters are angry and I have yet to hear of any who will canvas for FF. Barring unexpected developments on the brexit front affording him a turnaround I’d say he may well be toast.

    Irish people like honest politicians. That’s transparently honest and decent people (Garret FitzGerald comes to mind) or the complete opposite who they like ANYWAY, because shure isn’t a cute hoor and didn’t he fix de road? In the main the latter are people who nod and wink to their constituents about, let’s call them strokes pulled on their behalf, whether legal, fair, ethical or not.

    Donnelly represented himself as not one of the latter and was rightly critical of them. His justification for his new stance (Donald Trump and all the rest of it) is self-serving and unconvincing.

  • harmlessdrudge

    Donnelly’s “wee machine” is not going to canvas for FF. Not a chance in hell. However, the old FF machine of FF-til-I-die folks might make up for some of that.

  • mickfealty

    PP is probably the least reliable bookie for reading probabilities. They like to give money away on political markets to draw in new customers in. What’s Betfair saying?

    Certainly John McGuinness was upping the rhetoric on Claire Byrne yesterday. And it won’t do them any favours to wait too long. But aside from Enda stepping down, I don’t see an obvious trigger.

    Martin telling his single TDs to bring someone home with them doesn’t mean he’s planning to go soon: but he is signalling to them they can’t get comfortable when the imperative is to grow. [Also a hint at how both FF and FG rely on the base for growth].

    Donnelly is an exemplar for them in that regard. I don’t buy the comparisons many are making with Colm Keaveney other than it’s another journey from Labour to FF. That’s what a lot of folk are missing here. He does seem to like Martin’s policy mix, as did Keaveney.

    And policy is what he came into politics for. It’s FF as ‘real Labour’ that’s attracted him.

    Electorally Keaveney win in 2011 as the first ever Labour TD. When he ran again in a three seater he helped put his running mate Anne Rabbite easily over the line whilst beating the Labour candidate.

    At the time he bounced in off the back of a protracted row with the old Stickie leadership of Labour and joined a party no one thought had a future. He therefore had no chance of making his mark like Donnelly has.

    It’s almost entirely in Donnelly’s hands now in ways that were never available to Keaveney.

  • aperfectstorm1

    His former colleagues in the SDs would disagree with you quite robustly. He was put up as the face of the party in the run up to the last general election, rolled out at every conceivable opportunity and unfortunately it went to his head somewhat.

    His constituents in Wicklow will have some job getting their heads around this decision although FF have given him a role which means he will be front and centre over the next few years. This seems deliberate, his price for joining FF must have been a front window role in order to offset what might be a considerable drop in his independent vote.

    As an independent and SD candidate he pulled in votes from everywhere, as his outward transfer pattern proves. However, out of his 3,000 surplus barely ten percent went to Fianna Fail in 2016. In fact, he transferred better to Sinn Fein. Almost half went to FG and FG gene pool.

    He will hold his seat, but most likely at the expense of the other FF candidate.

  • harmlessdrudge

    Ah yes, a case of “He would say that, wouldn’t he?”

    Well, as someone who supported the SocDems and paid close attention to all of the public utterances I think there isn’t much doubt about who took the high road and who felt it necessary to publicly trash a former colleague. I won’t be supporting the SocDems next time around, and nor will the Wicklow constituency I suspect.

    Even aside from the clear inability to work with SD I got a bit weary of the demands for ever more expenditure of taxpayer’s money.

  • aperfectstorm1

    Ms Whitmore has quite the vote in Greystones and she is highly regarded county wide, at the last council meeting the gallery were noisely supportive of her and she is very transfer friendly. I would not be writing her out of the equation by any means.

  • Trasna

    Since their formation FF are not nor have they ever been, a republican party.

    Let the truth out, they are and always have been, a Catholic Nationalist Party.

    Been led by a survivor of Easter 1916 gave rise to an illusion and a myth that they are a republican, an illusion and a myth that endures to this day.

  • Trasna

    FF are neither republican or social democrats but a ‘ find out where the people are going and step out in front of them’ party.

    Depending on opinion polls, FF have been anti-divorce, pro -divorce, anti-abortion, pro-choice, anti-same sex marriage, pro SSM

    They are and have always been anti-women. They struggled to recruit women and struggled to meet their female quota of canditates for the last election.