Are we seeing further evidence of corrosion in the FF base?

With the outburst from Cllr and 2007 General election Noreen Ryan of FF in Limerick against the mighty local political totem that is Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea, are we seeing the strain of the negative national mood beginning to tell? Many of those commenting are missing the local context in the timing of all this as the FF local selection interviews were talking place in Limerick over the last week or so. It may simply be that the new interview based and HQ driven selection process may not be proceeding as painlessly as had been hoped for. It was noted in the Limerick Leader recently with suitable expressions of disinterest in the process from local FF heavy hitters (in their own minds at least) such as Eddie (I could still get into the Dail) Wade and Jack (only a council seat makes me feel complete) Bourke. I think Wade said something closely along the lines that they could shove their interview process up a certain place and get a proctologist to examine their prostate while retrieving it. I strongly suspect that Noreen Ryan has had her interview and picked up a definite vibe that she is not likely to be reselected. I particularly think her GE performance where she got barely 200 more votes than in the locals and she canvassed wearing sunglasses (was it the British Army that did the ad about the importance of making eye contact? Perhaps that is why she didn’t see it). That she should shoot her mouth off isn’t surprising, that the minister would retort by referring to her “as a person, utterly without credibility.” and continuing to say that “This is a grab for cheap publicity to conceal her utter inactivity and lack of performance as a councillor,”. Hmm….I can’t quite see how FF could have her on a ticket come next summer.

Fianna Fail ran 6 candidates, including cllr Ryam, in the 7 seat Castleconnell ward and they picked up 3 of the seats which was not a bad performance at all against the backdrop of the national picture. In fact it represented no change on the 1999 results. This time Labour and the Greens are making a really big push to gain a seat and with the demise of the PDs the future direction for cllr Brigid Teefy remains unclear. Might she now be looking for a home in the government party? And then we have to add in the likes of bright young lad Brian Stokes (who works with/for Peter Power TD and junior minster) who is bucking to get on the ticket in Castleconnell.

It is hard to see FF holding 4 out of 7 seats with the mood as it is now. This is moreover the case if they run too many candidates who fail to transfer amongst each other. The plain fact is FF as a party aren’t going to hold their seats by nominating imperious lads and ladies who lunch. They want them hungry and eager, and they want to have a tightly controlled panel of candidates. People who have a proven record of going off message and spending their time engaged in solo runs might well save their own seat but cost the party its other seats. While the national mood could change between now and election day, it is more likely that the government will choose to concentrate on the larger national picture and ensuring that they get things right so they can be returned to power in a few years rather than the immediate needs of cllrs. Of course, extrapolating too much from one ward is not without its dangers.

That said it may well be that this sort of radical surgery is needed if FF are to stave off the prospect that FG might pass them on. The story of the 2004 local and European was regarded at the time as being primarily about the increase in the SF vote. Yet in the longer term the vote retention and piecemeal seat gains by FG on what they had won in 1999 was of more significance. The 1999 results for FG were thought of at the time as a high water mark and later as something of a false dawn for the party in that those local successes didn’t prevent the tide going out in 2002. So sometimes it is not about the numbers of seats won but the overall context of the result.

It now seems that the FF brand and logo may even be more toxic than it was five years ago. I could tell from my own canvassing in the lead up to Christmas ’03 that many people were annoyed, disillusioned with the then FF/PD government and that they would take a hit come the summer but it was very unclear where the votes would go. In the end the votes spread out amongst the opposition parties in such a pattern as to please all concerned. The same could happen again, or any one of the opposition parties could take the lion’s share of the spoils. Only the campaigns and time will tell.

As for Cllr Ryan herself it is perhaps better for her to leave the party in a dramatic huff because she was standing up for ‘de local peeple’, run as an independent and if elected to return to the fold triumphant. With the FF logo more toxic than a tax demand on a poster it could be the only winning strategy for her and many others. No one ever said FFers were thick when it came to looking after themselves; it’s only when it comes to looking out for the rest of us that the brain tends to fail to engage.