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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  • pippakin

    Completely different and yet curiously similar, always the way with FF and FG.

    I think it will be close and though I understand the thinking of those who want Martin to win I doubt they are right. Martin is as, or almost as, culpable as Cowen. If he wins he has to justify his responsibility, support the budget and simultaneously denounce the previous leaders government, that’s a toughie, even for FF.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    In spite of myself I cant help liking some people in Fianna Fáil……and Micheál Martin (like Pat Carey) looks completely different from say Dick Roche or Batt O’Keeffe.

    But the spin of (say) a year ago seems to be replaced (first) by a state of denial and there are glimmers of hope for FF that there is a growing sense of reality.
    They cant win the next election. And as has been pointed out by Mr Fealty, the only real issue is the scale of the defeat.
    I think Martins asset is that he “seems” honest…..while FFs usual asset is a general air of shiftiness. Can FF be “saved” by a stroke politician (Cowen) or an alternative?
    Noel Whelan pointed out on the publication of 14% in opinion poll that he is constantly surprised that FF has not yet reached rock bottom. He had thought they wont drop below 21% or 17% or whatever.
    The longer the election delay, the longer FF rules and the diversion of a leadership election means that FF could fall even further. Id be surprised if even with a mini revival in the weeks befoe an election they get more than 30 seats (I have not made any serious analysis yet so please dont quote me…yet.).
    Martin can come across as the proverbial good man coming to the aid of the Party while Cowen seems fixated as much on his own legacy (something might turn up) than either the good of the country or the good of the Party.
    A secret ballot….might surprise Brian Cowen as much as it shocked Margaret Thatcher. FF people in constituencies where they hold two seats know that there is a lot of “dead men walking”. Theres nothing to lose.
    But if the ballot was wider…ie outside the Parliamentary Party…….Micheál Martin might have a better chance. He cant win without more publicly declared support from front benchers and even if swept to power by backbenchers he would find it hard to form a credible government.
    I fear (actually I welcome) that FF is now no longer a serious political party. They are confined to the margins and might well be winding itself up within five years. Just what will replace it……thats the real issue.

  • joeCanuck

    Pippakin,
    You may be underestimating the abililty of politicans to not answer questions put to them.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Am I right is saying that many, if not most of the TD’s who have the future of their country in their hands today are standing down tomorrow, or face no chance of re-election. Thats working on the presumption that Cowan calls an election tomorrow.

  • pippakin

    joe

    Perhaps but I think the coming election will be the one, possibly the first and last, where the usual prevarication of politicians will not do.

    RTE News showed a public meeting attended by Lenihan and his economics guru last evening. It did not end well, surprising how much noise two hundred people can make.

  • Munsterview

    RTE news just over !

    Brian Linehan, every bit the trained and practiced lawyer that he is, teased out what he actually said as against what people thought he said and inferences that they drew form that. It was typical lawyer speak !

    The upshot is Brian now claims that he never put himself forward for leadership and that he is fully supporting Brian Cowen for leader.

    John Mcguiness has gone on record immediately after to say that Lenihan said different to him personally and was both critical of Cowens leadership and that he was promoting his own, Lenihans candidacy for leadership.

    His exact words…..” That did not form the basis for our discussion, he encouraged dissent, he urged examining the numbers, he was critical of Brian Cowen, he expressed his own interest in leadership ” !

    One or the other is lying through their teeth ! Are we in ‘Mature Recollection’ territory of the late Brian Lenihan yet again ?

    Short term and tactically however he have outmaneuvered Micheal Martin ! If Brian Cowen do not get the numbers to day and there is a Leadership vacancy, then with his statement of support for Cowen, he has secured the critical votes of the Palace Guard in the Cowen camp. That allied to his own Lenihan followers and ‘call in the favor’ votes, should be enough to give him the numbers.

    Michael Martin, like Peter Barry before in Fine Gael may now be destined to be the ‘best Taoiseach Fianna Fail never had’ !

    Sean Haughey TD was right the weekend when he predicted that an hour would be a long time in Irish Politics for the immediate future.

    Then there is the rumor that just will not go away in insider circles, but have yet to break in mainstream media that Brian Lenihan and a coterie around him are playing footsie with Bruton and his coterie to form a new centre ground party.

  • Munsterview

    FitzJ.

    At present they will not make twenty seats, even with the election bounce. In fact the way things are going Net O’Keeffes prediction of a dozen seats, far from being alarmist, may be closer to the mark. John O’Donoghue in South Kerry stitched up Tom Fleming, long serving councillor and former chair of Kerry CC. yet again by ensuring that John himself was a single candidature run.

    Tom has gone independent, FF still have not learned their lesson of having shafted Jackie Healy Rae. At the time all those years ago a ‘FF suit’, preoccupied with ‘image’ asked me “Can you see his pus on a poster with his pug face and bald head, or worse the cap” ?

    My reply at the time ” What is more important I can see his votes in the box and that is what counts “!

    That completely alters the dynamics of the constituency for ‘The Republican family vote’ I expect that Ms Ferris will now go for it and she is in with a fighting chance, the fact that she is not living in the constituency do not make all that much of a difference, the Tralee, Killarney Killorgin triangle is the County political cockpit and she is part of that. She will get most of the no 2 from either camp, such is the decades of bad feeling between the Fleming and the Donoghue camps that they will set out to do maximum damage to each other.

    Out side of Dublin, inside FF it is every dog and devil for themselves. Expect more of the Fleming/Donoghue shenanigans where the Big Beasties will try to ensure a single run and others faced with a ‘now or never’ choice will go now. For a strong local FF regional candidate asking ‘what can the party do for me’ ? the answer is F all, they will take their electoral chances and take the consequences afterwards.

    If they succeed all will be forgiven by the new regime, if not it do not matter anyway !

  • Munsterview

    Updates

    1) Cowen has won the motion of confidence.

    2) Cowen confirmed that Micheal Martin informed him post the vote that he is resigning from the Government as Minister For Foreign Affairs.

  • Munsterview

    Update (2)

    Martin has been on live outside Linster House and he has announced that he has resigned from Government.

  • Munsterview

    Martin has been on live outside Linster House and he has announced that he has resigned from Government.

  • joeCanuck

    Cowen showed a degree of weakness by not accepting the resignation immediately. Presumably Martin is now damaged goods.

  • Munsterview

    JoeC.

    Not atall ! He did not get the numbers but his approach to the leadership challenge is seen as relatively open and he was above board at all times ( well most of them anyway) with Cowen.

    Micheal is, as of his resignation to-night, the undisputed alternative leader of substance and in waiting on the backbenchers. He was in cabinet for all the financial mess but come the election he will have put as much clear water between Cowen and Lenihan’s policies as he can possibly do.

    Lenihan stirred things up, several of the dissidents are saying that he lied today : he probably did not lie as such, it just sounded and seemed that way. As a practiced and experienced Lawyer he was well able to ‘lead the jury’ and talk out both sides of his mouth, but yet gave no actual commitments. He is now regarded as a hypocrite and and a political shyster to the dissidents. His character is now as questionable as his abilities.

    Dev Og expressed his interest in leadership and felt he would make a good leader because his grandfather was one. Mary H threw her knickers in the ring early on to stake her claim and did little else to get the prize. She started without too much substance….. and finished with even less!

    That left Cowen and Martin. Both are still in amicable terms as are their respective camps. Linehan however has been exposed a too clever by half and is now damaged in the eyes of the party and public. If Brian Cowen continues to fall as expected, Michael can only rise inside Fianna Fail while shaking his head sadly and saying ‘Told you so’ Not a bad place to be.

    Meanwhile the Labour Party Leader is even more pleased with Cowens victory than Cowen himself and the Champaign corks corks have probably been popping in the Labour Dail Rooms all evening. Dame Enda and his kitchen cabinet are also out in a Dublin backyard probably sacrificing a sheep or two to whatever gods they were praying to in thanksgiving for having delivered the goods.

    Gerry is probably on the phone to his own Martin discussing the timing of inviting FF cumanns to defect to Sinn Fein in mass !

    In fact this is one of these rare occasions where it has been a ‘winners all round’ result……. well except for the Irish People of course, but this is about politics and the people do not count.

  • Munsterview

    joeC : I think you were following this. If not some other regular poster was and may pick up on it!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/world/middleeast/16stuxnet.html?_r=1

  • joeCanuck

    Thanks for the link MV. Interesting stuff and makes you wonder what the future holds.