If the strong showing for Sean Gallagher, despite that last minute ambush on RTE’s last big set piece debate in the Presidential election demonstrates that the Fianna Fail space in Irish politics hasn’t gone away, Harry McGee points to one of the biggest problems the party itself faces, the degradation of political talent within the party itself:
…it entered the new Dáil a badly depleted and wounded party with no credibility, no women among its TDs, and a question over whether its leader represented the future of the party or a reminder of its failed past.
Stellar Dáil performances were clearly not on the cards. The party had to rebuild and modernise. It had to move into a space a world away from the Fianna Fáil that was a cheerleader for greed and narcissism over a lost decade. The party also needed to repent. The question was (and still is) for how long? With its half a team, Fianna Fáil has managed a scoreless draw in 2011, which is an achievement in itself.
But, Magee hints, there is an opportunity for the party to impress on the rebound with a front bench that is little associated with the party’s, erm, complicated past. Indeed, in contrast with John’s analysis at the time, Harry suggests that one of the party’s most high profile successes so far fell to their Finance spokesperson, Michael McGrath:
The Cork South Central TD is soft-spoken and understated but he has already impressed with a battery of legislative proposals surrounding personal debt and insolvency, as well as increasingly confident responses to the policies and utterances of the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, no slouch himself.
McGrath, an accountant, has clearly mastered the brief. His high point was his budget speech where his attack on disability cuts catalysed a U-turn.
The untimely demise of Fianna Fail has been greatly exaggerated, particularly in Northern Ireland where the focus on Sinn Fein’s great leap forward in last year’s general election seems to have been couched far too readily as the beginning of the end of Fianna Fail.
Micheal Martin heads a party that not only suffered in absolute terms in the polls it also lost the Bertie bonus of having an advantage in transfer patterns, which it will not easily get back. But it s probably the most consistently pro European of all the southern parties, and is likely to pitch itself that way in any forthcoming European debate; and is likely to be scrumming for the voters it lost to rural Fine Gael candidates, and Labour in urban areas.
Unlike some of the junior Northern Irish parties, there is still strong indications of life, never mind a pulse.
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