Tom has an interesting blog on the organisation of Fianna Fail in Northern Ireland. He notes the names of the two new university cumainn, William Drennan Cumann at Queen’s University Belfast, and the Watty Graham Cumann at the University of Ulster. Not exactly designed to have Protestants flooding through the doors of what is effectively a new party in Northern Ireland, but a clear differentiator from the ‘wind up the Prods’ strategy of Sinn Fein. Tom also notes that Ivan Cooper, the SDLP’s most prominent Protestant member has come out in favour of a realignment of the party he helped found with Fianna Fail. Cooper tells the Observer:
‘But I will also say that it’s now time to take a fresh look at things from the SDLP’s viewpoint. I favour an alliance because Fianna Fail is coming north and it would be wrong to see them competing for votes with the SDLP. They should have a strong relationship and work together as a political force. It’s also attractive because it means this alliance is part of an all-Ireland organised party.’
So is this a chimera based on clever PR, or a serious long term challenge? Tom’s own analysis bears repetition:
The major partners in the executive, Sinn Féin and the DUP, have yet to show much evidence that they can deliver a substantive policy agenda together, but there is little sign of any immediate challenge to their dominance. On the nationalist side, that is unlikely to change until the uncertainties around the future of the SDLP are resolved.
Anything more certain than that would be shameless futuring, but Fianna Fail’s limited opening shots at least show a literacy in unionist sensibilities that appears to be almost entirely missing from the current offerings of the two Northern Nationalist incumbents.
It remains to be seen whether a nationalist party that is not at its core anti-unionist (in other words purely pro-unification) can gain sufficient grind with voters and make the required gains to become a significant force in Northern Irish politics. Not least because it will likely need to draw support from both the SDLP and Sinn Féin