#GE11 Profile: Fianna Fail no longer an undisputed “Republican Party”…

From a long term point of view, the big story of the election was what’s happened to Fianna Fail. Not so much a notice to quit as almost a notice to quit trading. Bertie’s seat bonus has gone (and may never return), and the core kicked them pretty hard and coming on the heel of too Local Government wipeouts, they have a nasty generational gap to bridge.

Back in January, Liam Clarke rather ominously suggested that Fianna Fail may be facing a similar fate to the Ulster Unionist party. The parallels between Trimble’s wipe out in 2005 and today’s near annihilation are stark. Incumbency affords a certain set of privileges that reverse drastically when that incumbency is suddenly withdrawn. I suggested in Friday’s News Letter:

In order to prepare for a crash landing, the party has cut its number of seats to the bare minimum to make sure that they get at least one TD elected. But to get elected even as the sole candidate for a party that has become so unpopular, not least with its own base, Fianna Fail candidates better hope they get close to or over the quota.

As it turned out, they did not run the bare minimum. In fact in Dun Laoghaire neither one of two ministers, Barry Andrews and Mary Hanafin, would have taken a seat if only one had run. In Donegal South West, the Tainiste Mary Coughlan did lose her seat when Gaoth Dobhair based Brian O’Donnell polled strongly in his west Donegal Gaeltacht area.

In Dublin Central, Bertie’s politically insane letter urging voters to back his man, Cyprian Brady (who failed to poll even 1000 1st preference votes in 2007) over the woman whom the party could have run as the anti Bertie candidate, Mary Fitzpatrick. In the event she came in a good 800 votes behind Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald. And Fhoireann Bhertie is no more.

That’s not what’s scaring Fianna Fail activists. Ask them for an honest answer on what they expected out of this election, and they will say that 30 seats would have been a disaster. Now they have to sit on the back benches within a single figure seat difference with Sinn Fein. This is not the way it was supposed to be.

Going into this election the plan was to stem the tide of urban voters streaming into Labour. But when they heard that their republican base was deserting to Sinn Fein, they quickly changed tack and Sinn Fein became the primary and almost only target.

One senior representative I spoke to last night joked that maybe it was time for a merger with Sinn Fein. And it only half sounded like a joke, and partly like he said it just to hear what it sounded like when spoken out loud.

On mature reflection(for which they now have plenty of time), Fianna Fail may consider that to attack when they  should have put in a dogged defence was the critical  mistake. That’s probably what saved many of their rural based survivors.

In Cavan Monaghan, it was said last night that Brendan Smith’s canvassers turned up at the house of a local Fine Gael chair looking for a second preference vote after FG’s Joe O’Reilly. It was not related whether it got it, but it would go some way to explain why Smith came in second, in an election where most of his senior cabinet colleagues got the chop.

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  • ItwasSammyMcNally


    “Now they have to sit on the back benches within a single figure seat difference with Sinn Fein. This is not the way it was supposed to be.”

    What are the latest guesstimates of final seats?

    Presumably SF will stick on 13 (Wicklah a slight possible) which is a good result but probably now a bit of a disappointment – though they will hardly admit that.

  • Kadfoomsa

    Brian Ó Domhnaill atá i gceist agat nach ea? Ní jams o’donnell!

  • Mark McGregor


    You have another one guaranteed – Laois/Offaly and a small hope in Wicklow

  • Mr Crumlin

    I think 14 or 15 would be a very saticfactory result when taken with a few other points.

    1. The transfer issue is becoming less of a problem for SF – they clearly picked up transfers this time.

    2. SF has built up a strong base in other constituencies e.g Wicklow, cork etc for the regional and next general election.

    3. It builds SF as the only truly All Ireland Party.

    4. It undermines those opposed to the SF strategy.

    5. The anti-SF rhetoric didnt derail this advance – particularly the anti-Gerry stuff.

    6. It sets the May elections up nicely.

  • Mick Fealty

    RTE suggesting another two/three in play for SF and they are currently on 13. That may bely FF’s real strength in the country They contested more strongly in a lot more constituencies than SF, but particularly if Labour and FG can stick it five years, the optics may work a certain dark magic

  • Nunoftheabove

    Had SF known in advance of the scale of the collapse of the FF vote I’d have thought they’d have been strongly underwhelmed with the prospect of only bagging 13-14 seats.

  • Hopping The Border

    Mick were you at the Count Centre for Cav-Mon at the leisure centre yesterday?

  • Mr Crumlin

    NOTA – how can a party be underwhelmed if they trebled their seat numbers?

  • Henry94

    Avoiding government is the key to growth for a small party. The lesson of the PDs and the Greens is that you need a core support to fall back on before you go into power.

    If you build on the floating vote they will abandon you. So by excluding Sinn Fein the big (and formerly big) parties are ensuring they will grow and grow until they are too big to exclude anymore.

    It’s just not the seats SF have won you need to look at but the many where they established themselves as likely to win in the future.

    Also the age profile of their voters and supporters. They are building up a loyal core that will sustain them for a long time.

  • ItwasSammyMcNally


    thanks for that – have lost my bearings having stayed up late with RTE. RTE website, of which I am not a fan generally, is putting on a reasonable show. RTE Radio, as usual has a great mix of informal and informative (unrivalled anywhere in my opnion) chat and facts.


    I partly agree, this was an incredible opportunity for growth for SF which has only been partly grasped. But I suppose the same could be said of Labour who have shed lost of potential growth to SF and independents.

    But the Plain People of Ireland are fairly conservative and simply switched to a party that in all honsesty probably would have landed us where we are today if they had won last electiion.

    The Plain People also, despite our history had some difficulty with the recent insuregncy (except along the border where they were both more Republican and more informed) and there can be little doubt that that impacted on SF potential for growth.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Whats left in Fianna Fáil is actually a very mixed bunch.
    And that might be their undoing. There are some that look capable but tired…….and other who look like FF backbenchers/parish pumpers who are now going to be over promoted and be spokesman for Agriculture, Europe, Defence, Health etc.
    And by the way “spokesMAN” is the right word…no women so far (not seen any TV this morning) so just like the UUP.
    But off the top of my head the leadership of FF is
    Micheál Martin….actually always struck me as decent
    Brian Lenihan….ditto
    Eamonn Ó Cuiv…..dull but probably public spirited
    Brendan Smith…..probably as Ó Cuiv
    Willie O’Dea…….who looks like he has been given the role of a FF TD by Central Casting.
    But with respect to the traditional #2 FF guys like Timmy Dooley (Clare) or Sean O’Fearrail (?) in South Kildare…they arent household names.
    The carnage took away the useless (Roche presumably) but also people like Conor Lenihan, John Curran, Barry Andrews who are ok (for FF).

    Someone mentioned last night that FF has a membership of 50,000-60,000 (with 5,000 in its Youth Section). That seems exaggerated but in itself is about 5 or 6 quotas worth. But how can FF actually engage a mass membership when it has become “HQ” orientated with a Team Bertie mentality. The mass rally Ardfhéis when Fianna Fáil goes up to Dublin for a weekend is a thing of the past.
    FF cant be “sophisticated” AND a mass movement. Its already set to lose a lot of councillors. If people leave it….where will they go? Re-brand Fianna Fáil?
    Engage with SF more positively.
    If SF have become (almost) transfer friendly, they have also achieved the trick of no longer being the scariest politicians in the country.
    A technical group which includes Shane Ross & Mick Wallace or Michael Lowry might be feasible.
    So will a technical group of Socialists/ULAs ……but nobody can really form a group that includes Michael Healy Rae or Ming Flanagan.
    With half of FF TDs probably wishing that they hadnt bothered standing at all ….its hard to see FF on say 22 seats being as motivated as SF on say 14.
    SF now “look” more reasonable than the Socialists/ULAs. SF are the Party of burning the bondholders and FF the party of supporting austerity.
    Labour are in a bad place…..they would actually be better to stay out of coalition and give FG enough rope to hang itself in a year. But being in Government wont work for them.

  • Henry94

    I see MM is falling back on the old standby or pretending to organise in the north


  • ItwasSammyMcNally


    “But being in Government wont work for them.”

    This is something of an oxymoron – being in government is an end in itself – not the means to an end.

    But I agree it will be a rough ride for them with the promise of a serious kicking at the end.

  • “The parallels between Trimble’s wipe out in 2005 and today’s near annihilation are stark.”

    Mick, you’re comparing apples and oranges. However, if you compare UUP share of the Westminster vote with FF share of first preferences you’ll see that FF have dropped a lot further and quicker than the UUP.

    UUP: 26.8% in 2001 > 17.7% in 2005

    FF: 42.5% in 2007 > 17.4% in 2010

    You’d have to go back to 1987, when the UUP got 37.8%, to get anywhere near the FF support in 2007.

  • George

    It’s probably too late for FF to organise up north but the all-Ireland party card is really helping SF with a certain type of voter south of the border.

  • stewart1

    Pretty impressive result for Sinn Fein and they have certainly put down solid foundation blocks for further growth.

    They should be looking at a target of 20-25 seats next time.

  • Dewi

    Strange that SF didn’t stand 2 candidates in Donegal SW.

  • Mr Crumlin

    Next time Dewi – this was about consolidating the position in DSW.

  • Nice tweet from Eamonn Mallie: “I would hate that boorish practice of hoisting the successfully elected candidate shoulder high.”

    I don’t think there’s any risk of that happening to Eamonn 🙂

    It reminds me of a jibe allegedly directed at a DUP politician following a Paisley snr success in North Antrim: “Mind the back, X”. X was believed to be claiming benefit at the time for a bad back 🙂

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Actually I think behaviour at count centres is an embarrassment. There is a certain laddishness to it but basically you have to be the sort of person who actually enjoys that sort of thing.
    Im not “hail fellow, well met” and good to see that there is someone out there who agrees with me.
    That FG banker fella Matthews looked a bit uncomfortable with it…..probably not bank boardroom behaviour.
    I wouldnt use a word as extreme as “boorish” but its not exactly sophisticated.
    And Im sophisticated…Ive been to Belfast.

  • Greenflag

    SF look like almost quadrupling their representation from 4 to 15. Brian Stanley will be elected in Laois Offaly for SF and there’s a chance even in Wicklow .

    For FF to come back the political ground to the right , centre and left of them has narrowed to the point where their future existence has to be brought into question .

    Congrats to RTE for their coverage -big improvement all round from last time .

    So are we looking at a coalition FG/Lab 114 versus a very much fractured opposition of an FF rump , SF , ULA and Independents ?

    What should happen is for FF to support an FG government or for Enda Kenny to do a deal with some independents and for Labour + SF + ULA + some Independents as an opposition .And that would finally bury Civil War politics .

    For that to happen Mr Gilmore will have to eschew the Merc and that’s not going to happen for the good of the country ye see 😉

    There are many in FG who have been years in the political wilderness who won’t relish the prospect of sharing their biggest ever election success by having to share the spoils with Labour particularly with a Labour party with almost 40 seats .

    Heaslip’s gone over for the first try at Murrayfield -7-0

  • JH

    Martin’s not lying about the FF move up North, the inaugural meeting in Belfast was last week in the Welly

  • Greenflag

    Fitzjameshorse 1745,

    ”there is a certain laddishness ‘

    But no fisticuffs 😉 Not yet anyway .
    Peter Matthews is okay -but he may have a tough time adapting to ‘party discipline’ still he’ll have learnt from Georgey boy Lee eh ?

    But we can take it that Bertie Ahern will not be a candidate in the Presidential election . With one TD in Dublin and slightly ahead of SF in number of seats FF won’t have the cash or the will to contest ?

    Ireland feeling sorry for Scotland so have given them two soft penalties 7-6. Nothing learnt from the French game apparently.

  • perseus

    Good stuff Greenflag, you echo Henry94 views on the best gov’t /oppo groupings.

    Labour will demand a high proce for their coalition with FG
    FF will offer to carry the ministerial bags of FG for a chance at gov’t 😉

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Well we have not had fisticuffs……but I see “jiving” has broken out in the Cork count…..we have had one “tired and emotional” Labour TD……and a rousing chorus of “On The One Road” also in Cork.
    There must be some kins factory which makes Fine Gael women. They all look alike.

  • In spite of political difficulties, I’d like to congratulate Provisional S/F and wish all their TDs’ well in the next five years…

    Fianna Fail were never a Republican Party my friends…If they had have honoured and implemented the 1916 Proclamation and the 1919 Declaration of Independance, they could have claimed that mantile…

    However, they were content to dishonour core Republican-Socialist principles in favour of a pro-capitalist State and we all know where that got them in the end!

  • “And that would finally bury Civil War politics”

    Gf, isn’t FF just SFlite, gombeen politics without some of the Mafia trappings?

    FF managed to hold on to some seats in the Independent Republic of Cork, an Irregular redoubt in the 1920s, and IIRC FF has Irregular roots.

  • Greenflag

    It’s the ‘gene pool’ 😉 They’ve been inbreeding since the Civil War- . This ‘dynasty ‘politics has become ridiculous and it’s the bane of the country .Although when you hear hear son of Healy Rae from Kerry South on his inheritance objecting to some RTE news man referring to him as part of the FF gene pool and vociferously defending his independence then theres hope .

    But I have to eat humble pie . I knew that FG would win but I was’nt prepared to credit the extent of the win to Enda Kenny’s leadership. He’s a dacent man and miles away in demeanour from the CJ Haughey’s and Albert Reynolds or Bertie Aherns or De Valera’s or Fitzergerald’s that we conjure up in our minds as Irish taoisighi.

    Perhaps what the country needs is a quiet little fella like Enda who was looked over just as was WT Cosgrave our first ‘Free State ‘ Taoiseach and father of Liam Cosgrave (1973-1977) .

    While Dev may be spinning in grave drying laundry in 8 seconds I’m sure Liam Cosgrave will have enjoyed himself watching these results roll in .

    It’s ironic that the much promised FF advance into Northern Ireland to put manners on SF and stiffen the weakening resolve of the SDLP has instead turned into an SF advance into the Republic and the ‘manners’ are being laid elsewhere.

    Labour can’t demand too high a price for FG have options now and could even threaten to go to the country again in which case SF would probably come back with more than FF. .

  • Greenflag


    There must be some kins factory which makes Fine Gael women. They all look alike.’

    Sorry Fitzer the above post first sentence was answering your FG ladies question . They’re all fine ladies as you can see and that’s why the party is called -you guessed it Fine Gael -FF btw will not have a female TD in the next Dail fine or not fine 🙁

  • Greenflag

    Nevin ,

    ‘IIRC FF has Irregular roots.’

    Right now Nevin FF will be looking at very bald constituencies where hair of scalped ex TD’s is thick on the ground and roots have been pulled out in a painful ‘democratic ‘ election. 🙂

    As a longer term FF man (voter and supporter) until recent times I bemoan the loss of this once proud political party/national institution and I’ve been listening and looking to some of the comments being made from some of the younger FF TD’s who scraped through and while Michael Martin has put on a brave face and accepted the ‘hammering ‘ with dignity -I”m not sure ‘resurrection’ will be possible . It’ll take a while before the dust settles.

    But where is the political ground on which they can rebuild ? FG have taken the centre and centre right and Labour +SF + ULA have taken the left field and they have a much younger demographic in their favour .

    If not in this election (FF probably could’nt take the embarrassment of being merged into a new Cumann Na NGaedl ) or whatever such a combo would be called . But next time assuming they last till then without splitting up then an end to the Civil War division could be on ?

  • Mack


    I see this argument coming up a lot right now

    But where is the political ground on which they can rebuild ? FG have taken the centre and centre right and Labour +SF + ULA have taken the left field and they have a much younger demographic in their favour .

    The FF meltdown did not occur on idealogical grounds, they got a hiding because they led the country to deep recession and international humilation and ran out of time before any sort of external help could arrive (if any such help will actually ever be forthcoming).

    Right and left are broad terms (e.g. by some definitions SF would be solidly right – particularly wrt their brand of nationalism), and with there is certainly room for more than one right-of-centre party. Regardless of whatever policy nuances they may choose the principle differentiator in coming years will be that they aren’t the government. That should be enough to take them back into the mid 20’s..

  • Mick Fealty


    The shoulder hoisting is a practical response to the fact there is no podium. In first past the post there is a single event when winner and losers stand on a stage and get called out.

    Here, there is a barrier between where the ballots are counted and the returning officer makes his many calls, and the candidates who remain part of the crowd.

    It’s a formula for the cameras.

  • Mick Fealty


    Re the UU comparitor, I was making a more precise point (though that may not have been clear). Going into 2005 the UUs told us they were in the market for two extra seats, in event they lost four out of five.

    The similarity is that defending a failing incumbency reverses the advantage of that incumbency, because you have to man more many more walls with far fewer troops than can do that job.

    Especially when so many of the party’s public representatives appear to be in denial.

    PS, I will be coming to SF guys, so don’t worry…

  • “The shoulder hoisting is a practical response to the fact there is no podium.”

    Mick, I don’t know whether or not the Paisley snr anecdote related to a Westminster or to an Assembly election win. I’ve just done a little googling and found these references to Paisley jnr’s Westminster win last year:

    “Taking centre stage, Paisley Jnr. nodded to his entourage … The National Anthem having been sung, he left the stage and headed for the exit, the press pack surging behind him … All that remained was for Paisley Jnr. to accept the adulation of his supporters. The victorious new MP was carried shoulder high from the reception area, reaching out to pump hands and high five his overjoyed supporters.”

    Mr X supports a different party now.

  • Mack

    Worth noting FF polled 2% less than Labour. The gap in seats gained due to poor candidate selection &transfer toxicity was huge. This is probably a low point not the end. They’ll almost certainly score big gains next time out.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I noticed that one female candidate seemed to be groped by her supporters.
    But it is an odd Irish tradition. It lacks gravitas.
    On balance FG winners looked worryingly too well fed to be hoisted comfortably.

  • wee buns


    however groped, hoisted, or far too well fed.
    The candidates are being ‘ridden’ a high.
    Almost like an oracle of things to come, no?

    BTW I reckon they make FG guys in some factory ‘cos they all do look the same, or is it just that born-to-rule expression…

  • Mick Fealty

    To return to the topic in hand.

    Picked up one explanation as to why O’Donnell ran in #DLSW, to put down a marker to Coughlan who it is felt within the party had lost touch with her base support. And, probably, to stop Pearse Doherty cutting out a near monopoly in the western Gaeltacht.

  • wee buns


    As recently as early last year, Coughlan could have shot someone in the street and still been re elected the next day, her appointment as Tánaiste in March being enthusiastically lauded locally. Mary (I have it from a good source) just a few weeks ago purchased a 600,000K plot of land in Letterkenny on behalf of the government from FF Cllr Sean McEniff. This is not the act of people who have an iota of self awareness about the public disgust for the same.
    However how could they fail to notice the dominance of Doherty.

  • Nationalism is a part of the political scene in every nation and to a greater or lesser extent in each nation. It is not necessarily explicit in bread and butter political issues but it is there. It can pull the heartstring of a voter and on some occasions and can make a crucial difference to the outcome of a general election. I think it may have done during the 1983 UK general election.

    No political party should be the exclusive owner its Nation’s flag but some political parties take more ownership of the flag than others.

    In the Republic of Ireland, Fianna Fail has always been more nationalist than its political rivals. In the UK, the Conservative Party used to be the most nationalist political party. In recent years, UKIP have made inroads into the British nationalist right political space.

    The huge drop in support for Fianna Fail may reflect, on some subliminal level, a massive drop in the National self-esteem of Irish people. It could mean that the Nationalist space is up for grabs in the future. I have not doubt that Sinn Fein will make a dash to supplant Fianna Fail as the largest party of Irish Nationalism but I think the situation is very fluid. Fine Gael may yet have a very big say in that too.

    I think that Fianna Fail can recover. They can be thankful that Fine Gael are going into government with Labour and not a centre-right alliance. They can also be thankful their voting system is not “first past the post” Fianna Fail wanted that system in many years ago as a means of wiping out Fine Gael. Perhaps that electoral system will also help to keep them alive, just as it is keeping the UUP alive at Assembly and regional level.

  • wee buns

    We saw a good example on last night’s TV, where Clair Daly of ULA described SF as a ‘radical nationalist’ party.
    When Cllr Mc Laughlin’s replied to that remark, he switched ‘radical Nationalist’ for ‘radical Republican’.
    That the two terms are seen to be interchangeable, (without EVEN, in this instance, the pernickety Mr. Browne batting an eyelid) it just goes to show how easy it is for political parties to claim to hold to ‘republican values’ while never being challenged on wtf that actually means.