Leadership scrap fritters away precious time for Fianna Fail…

Well, in the last few weeks we’ve had a very direct lesson in the peculiar politics of the Republic: two dismal heaves within Ireland’s two main political parties by insurgents who seem motivated less by personal ambition than by damage limitation at the polls.

Of course in Northern Ireland we’ve had a few heaves of our own in the last year. In the first, the SDLP leader Mark Durkan anticipated any prospective move by his party rivals by helping to organise his own successor.

In the second case, that of the DUP, there was  less of a heave than an unprecedented media storm over his wife’s less than conventional behaviour in her personal life. Yet few doubt that Mr Robinson came within a inch of his political life as his party examined all the options before them.

In some respects, the major difference here is that Mr Cowen and his party have far fewer options before them. In the end, sticking with the devil you know before an historic electoral fall from grace may prove the lesser of two evils. Unlike with Robinson, there’s no substantial political issues at stake beyond party survival.

Micheal Martin’s ‘defection’ seems almost calculated to draw those critics who suggest that if he fails to differentiate himself now when he has a chance of providing his party with an alternative leadership, he won’t stand a chance in the post election era.

Media speculation around this moment has been unusually fierce, some of it based on genuine off record briefings, but some of it too based on a desperation to see the back of Fianna Fail. At 14%, Fianna Fail were at an historic low in the last Red C opinion poll.

The last week has chewed up valuable time on a manner of speculation the party can ill afford. And they’ve indulged themselves in the same hysteria that seemed to so amuse them when Enda Kenny’s loyal lieutenant Richard Bruton turned on the Fine Gael leader last year.

Whatever happens in the party’s confidence vote today, Fianna Fail’s mountain’s just got a little steeper and the time they now have even just for getting to a respectable basecamp before their nuclear electoral winter sets in, just got a whole lot shorter.

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