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.

  • Mack

    Dan –

    “It now seems that the FF brand and logo may even be more toxic than it was five years ago”

    Yep – among my circle of friends, some loyal FF supporters were (very) angry at the huge stamp duty cheques they had to write to purchase their first family home (for a grossly overinflated price).

    In fairness, this was fixed at the last budget (though not it’s not ideal for non-ftb’s) – but the damage among that segment was done. (Before considering the anger of the negative equity, unemployed etc).

    I can’t see this getting any easier. What do they do? They have to raise taxes and / or cut public spending (which means worse sevices for higher taxes)?
    Public sector wages are a good 30% higher than private sector wages (before taking pensions into account). But leaving service delivery untouched and cutting wages is political dynamite.

    Also, at time of austerity measures the Home Choice Loan (developer bail out) was ill-conceived, although so far it has not attracted much media attention.

    FF have done many great things for the country – but unfortunately I think they’ve painted themselves into a difficult corner with benchmarking – a gross misuse of the aforementioned bubble stamp duty taxes!

  • Willie O’Dea is a particularly odd phenomenon in Limerick – a major vote getter who’s reluctance to yield up any of it means that his fellow FFers are often scraping to get in down the count.

    Even with PR it should have been harder for FG and Lab to manage three out of five last time up with Tim O’Malley’s vote imploding – but O’Dea hogged 39% of the 50% 1st prefs on a 3-person ticket.

  • Dan Sullivan

    Mark, Willie has cause when it comes to not towing the FF party line. Back in the late eighties FF hung him out to dry over his rebellion over the closure of Barrington’s hospital. So he lost the party whip and was pretty told much to go fish by Haughey. This at a time when the PDs (remember Des O’Malley was leader )had pretty much taken all the FF organisation in Limerick so Willie was left with just himself and his own people.

    FF as a broad based party was gone from Limerick for a number of years. The organisation that was rebuilt was rebuilt by Willie and in his own image, nothing of significance happens in Limerick without Willie’s input. He feels, and to a large extent it is true, that he owes nothing to the national FF organisation. That he was made to wait so long by 3 FF Taoisigh to be made a full minister when he is (a) no eejit, qualifications in both law and accounting (b) a big vote getter (c) from the 3rd largest city in the state and finally (d) was willing to appear on every and any media outlet to defend the party no matter what has only further salted his wounds.

  • picador

    Rats off a sinking ship.

    I must say (like a lot of Slugger’s northern content) this is real parish pump stuff. There is no political principle whatsoever at stake here – just ambitious people scrambling for power and influence. Tammanay Hall machine politics!

  • Whatever you say say nothing

    FF from an activist’s pov has traditionally been a highly authoritarian organisation with the membership having little or no say in policy formulation. Árd-Fheiseanna motions historically fall into the category of making the minister or Uachtarán Fhianna Fáil look good. There is no automatic right for a member to even attend the Árd-Fheis, you must be a Cumann delegate to attend. Now, not even the membership can choose candidates and HQ has reserved for itself the right to “interview” prospective candidates. Increasingly FFers are there purely to feed back information about their neighbourhood and to knock on doors and put up posters.

    The wheels are about to come off the organisation in a big way with the local, European elections and a probable referendum, no results of which will look good for the “Republican” party. The two Brians and the two Marys sleepwalked into electoral disaster with the disgraceful capitulation to the dead hands of the Department of Finance and the not forgotten insult to the over 70s, and educational cuts. FF activists are getting it in the neck and if there ever was proof that being in power for too long cultivates contempt in the party of government for the people they govern, this is it.

    There is no sign of the FF government ministers awaking any time soon as Brian “Óg” Lenihan has replayed Haughey’s old card of 1980 vintage that the citizens of the Republic are “living beyond their means”. We await with baited breath for our political masters to forego the Black Mercs for clapped out Nissan Micras any time soon.

  • Dan – true enough but that’s 20 years ago, Haughey’s dead and Willie’s living high on ministerial office – if he was truly offended he should have run as an independent. Time for him to be an elder stateman rather than just getting old.

  • BTW I dispute the “no eejit” bit – remember this?

  • Mick Fealty


    Going local tells you an awful lot more about the political game than all the Kreminology in the world. BTW, Dan tells me he nipped out for ten minutes tonight and came back to find Willie’s calling card on the doorstep. Something that is clearly never been lost on FF (or SF for that matter).

  • Dan Sullivan

    She has now moved on to comparing him to Hitler!

    Has no one told her about Godwin’s Law?