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 Incumbency affords a certain set of privileges that reverse drastically when that incumbency is suddenly withdrawn.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.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty