After the election… Fianna Fail…

After Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail is the longest continuously operating party in the Republic. Their long ongoing argument with big rival Fine Gael is often characterised as a continuation of civil war politics.

Yet such reasoning is largely academic. These historic if unresolved issues have barely featured in southern political life in thirty years. Class is probably a more significant factor, with Fianna Fail traditionally drawing more support from the lower end of Ireland’s social scale.

Yet even that is insufficient to explain the residual cultural/political difference between the two. Perhaps, given FF’s historic propensity to dominate in government over the last eighty plus years, it could be argued that in binary code FF renders as a 1 to FG’s 0; ie, it has built its reputation as ‘the party of government’ on a capacity for ‘getting things done’.

So you might figure from that, how much of a shock the last Irish general election was in which the party was given it was a public drubbing of such truly epic proportions. This is not a party for whom sitting and twiddling idle parliamentary thumbs on Dail benches comes easily.

The economic collapse was the ostensible reason, but more deeply fifteen too comfortable years in government effected a capture by the civil service gradually lost the party their reputation for un-jargoned plain speaking and concrete delivery.

In the event, the party’s failure to win more than one European seat was the most obvious misfire.  Pat the Cope Gallagher lost out just this morning after losing by a couple of hundred votes, whilst Mary Fitzpatrick in Dublin was further adrift.

Yet other more fundamental factors which tell tell a rather different and more nuanced story than the one currently being told in Dublin and Belfast.

Disaggregated from constituency, it was Fianna Fail who topped pipped Fine Gael in the national poll. In the locals they came first by an even greater margin.

In both by elections, the party came second with a much improved transfer rate from other candidates. And in the South EP constituency the transfer rate  brought their second candidate in contention for the fourth and final seat.

Strong showings in Cavan and Donegal County Councils will also please party activists. The latter is dropping a Dail seat next time out, so we could see an useful SF/FF faceoff there.

Despite scoring their second lowest result in the party’s history, and striking almost the same percentage as 2009, Fianna Fail took 25.3% of the vote and 28.4% of council seats. They also lead in 14 of 31 councils including Cork, and hold second place in Dublin.

Put simply, the re-engineering of the wider political landscape has substantially strengthened its strategic positioning (if not it’s direct power) in the country.

You can expect a lot of emphasis on strategically important Dublin in the next few years. The Dublin West byelection suggests there’s one seat at least to be had. But they will need much more if they are to stand any chance of regaining a trusted ‘party of government’ status.

“Where Dublin goes, the country follows” they say. That’s why Sinn Fein are so excited about their genuine achievements in these elections. And it is why Fianna Fail also understand that success in the country is not enough for them to claim they are properly back.

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  • latcheeco

    “it was Fianna Fail who topped the national poll” Nah that was the Sinners:)

  • Ruarai

    In America you need the acquaintance of bankers to reach and influence the politicians. In southern Ireland, prior to 2008, it was much worse: One needed the acquaintance of the politicians to get favors from the banks!

    Has the crash and the scorching of FF changed this culture?

    FF used to consider this kind of thing less a source of national corruption and more a national past time that they, in particular, were best at ‘facilitating’.

    Despite this, FF were and are a little unhelpfully, if not unfairly, labeled with the blame for several of the worst corruptions that fueled and shaped the southern Irish experience of the 2008 crash and its Trioka consequences, at least in one important respect.

    The other parties, even SF, were arguing not about how Ireland was creating its wealth pre-2008, they were arguing but how the spoils should be divided.

    Labour in particular have some reason to find that claim harsh but, let’s face it, it’s true.

    Consequently, simply blaming the whole thing on FF is unserious (though no more unserious than FF’s attempts to claim disproportionate credit during and for the Tiger years).

    This is important because if Ireland is ever to rid it’s political body of chancerism, there needs to be a proper reckoning for what was so wrong with the state’s institutions, including its parties, prior to and throughout the drunken years of the inflated property boom and flow of cheap money.

    Attributing those ills entirely to FF is too easy.

    Nonetheless, for the party to be back to this position already, a position that makes their return to what passes for government during the ‘supervised restructuring’ in a year or two, well, isn’t it too soon?

    Doesn’t the state need longer to properly divest itself of the bullshit?

    Doesn’t FF as an institution need a longer ‘period of reflection’?

    First time tragedy. Second time – there can be no second time.

  • “After Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail is the longest continuously operating party in the Republic.”


    I take it that the opening reference is to Provisional Sinn Fein, which only came into existence in January 1970, only began to contest elections in 1981-82, and only began to seriously contest elections in the Republic in the 1990s. This is in contrast to Fianna Fail, which came into existence in the mid-1920s, contested its first general election in 1926 and formed its first government in 1932. So the second party is decades older than the first one mentioned in your piece.

  • Mick Fealty

    Fixed it latch…


    They are NOT being given the keys to anything just yet… so I think to use your analogy the period of reflection must continue. They are still, by and large, locked out of Dublin, where to be honest most of the damage was done.

    They may have lead party status, but they don’t control any local council. Nor in fact does anyone. That’s about as elegant a statement as can be made on the matter.

    That is why a lot of the speculation over who is going to be in what coalition next time round it is so fevered. It will depend on mathematical calculations, and it could involved odd combinations of independents being pressed into service.

    Sinn Fein could be involved (though having seen what happened to Labour, I doubt they will want to), or it could be a grand coalition between FF and FG.

    You can sure that whatever Frank Flannery has said in the past, they won’t want to be sharing it with a FF that could get ahead of them in seats.

    So I expect to see something of a re-invigoration of the FG base (such as it is): one to avoid the party coming under the aegis of FF in coalition, and two to block out the ould enemy SF.

    There’s a slack in turnout between this and general elections of about about 12-17%… I suspect a lot of is FG voters staying at home…

  • Greenflag

    ‘ I suspect a lot of is FG voters staying at home…’

    Any reason for that suspicion ?

    The EP result FG 4 ,SF 3, FF 1, Labour Party 0 , Independents 3

    would indicate that Labour voters stayed at home much more so than FG .

  • Mick Fealty

    Two words: Brian and Hayes.

  • RegisterForThisSite

    “The other parties, even SF, were arguing not about how Ireland was creating its wealth pre-2008, they were arguing but how the spoils should be divided.”


    Hate to disagree but that claim stands up just as badly as Micks repeated “Sinn Fein voted for the bailout” tosh

    “…….CLAIMS last week by Taoiseach Brian Cowen that no one in the Opposition issued any warnings about the property bubble and the excesses of the Celtic Tiger speculators have been rejected by Sinn Féin, who challenged Fianna Fáil to check the Dáil record………………..Arthur Morgan added:
    “If the Taoiseach is so confident that there were no warnings from the Opposition benches in relation to the growth of a property bubbles, he should take a look at the Dáil archives where Sinn Féin deputies are on record as warning against the dependence on property revenues. Neither Fianna Fáil nor Brian Cowen were willing to heed our warnings and now they are not willing to accept full responsibility for the crisis engulfing this state.”
    He reminded Fianna Fáil that Sinn Féin repeatedly tackled ministers in relation to their failure to tackle escalating house prices.
    “We called for the introduction of a tax on second homes to curb growing house prices where investors were pricing first-time buyers out of the market; we opposed the cutting of Capital Gains Tax on the basis that it would fuel the property bubble and make it more profitable to speculate in property than to run a business – and we were ignored.
    “Sinn Féin opposed unsustainable cuts in taxes and highlighted the danger in the over-dependence on taxes related to consumption and construction and the over-dependence on the construction sector for employment.
    “Sinn Féin may not have advocated the ‘in vogue’ economic policies of the Celtic Tiger but we proposed measures that would have insulated us from one of the severest recessions this state has ever seen.”….”

  • RegisterForThisSite

    Or as Sluggers favourite paper put it at the time

    “CIARAN BYRNE and JANE SUITER SINN FEIN’S economic policies would be “suicide” for the Celtic Tiger, halting the housing boom in its tracks and triggering massive job losses, according to the country’s leading economists.”

  • Roy Walsh

    I’d suspect the rise in local fortunes for Fianna Fáil has as much to do with Micháel Martin’s work in re-organising a party, written off in 2011, and before, than any other factor.
    Martin did an excellent job, and upon appointment apologised for that party’s role in bankrupting the twenty six counties in the previous three years (people quickly forgot it was that party which built the tiger economy they had enjoyed).
    ‘ with Fianna Fail traditionally drawing more support from the lower end of Ireland’s social scale.’ – I’d disagree entirely with this, Fianna Fáil, in my memory, appealed more to ‘middle Ireland’ by far and away the bulk of the population, Middle earners, Catholic and aspiring to better for themselves and their off-spring, which the tiger economy presented, the 2011 loss of support drew more from the emigrating father’s and son’s than anything else, combined with lowering house prices, rising taxes and corresponding reduced prices farmers could ask for goods.
    They have made substantial gains in local government across the twenty six counties despite a not enormous overall increase in their share of the national vote.
    Blackrock was a success for them (that’s Blackrock Co. Dublin not Co. Louth) where despite making a balls of candidate selection both iar Aire Hannafin and the young and likable Feeney were returned, this is an issue which might return to haunt their party HQ.
    What I did not hear mention of was their failure to organise on an all-Ireland basis despite 2007 promise to do so, I’d have thought in south and west Ulster that Sinn Féin would have attempted to capatilise on this. Perhaps next time.

  • RegisterForThisSite


    Strange comment to add to a post that states

    “…..Despite scoring their second lowest result in the party’s history, and striking almost the same percentage as 2009…..”

    Reality is that FF is still more or less at it’s core vote, MM’s position is under constant threat and the party’s frontline still has loads of the old-guard that people blame for the crash including MM himself, who difficulty remembering he was in the FF Cabinet at the time.

    Finally re the Celtic Tiger, the 2nd half was fuelled by cheap money, the FF Gov refused/failed to take action not only fearing a loss of votes but more importantly a loss of brown envelopes

  • Roy Walsh

    Register, the fact remains, the Fianna Fáil party have done substantially better than other parties in the locals, they will now be analysing why this did not transfer into european support and attempting to buold on that local government success to re-enter Dail Éireann in 2015/16 with a possibility of seats in government.
    I have made the point before re: the collapse of the economy, this was not a national matter, rather it was trans-atlantic as the EU commission had imposed two directives demanding deregulation of financial services and it was this, rather than national government which was responsible for european economic collapse and the ‘cheap money’ which even in the late ’90’s I could predict was going to lead to a disaster.
    The Fianna Fáil ‘core vote’ we were once told was 40%, they are no-where near that again, what it fell to in 2009, at the beginning of the economic collapse cannot be reasonably compared to what it’s traditional level was.
    I’d suspect Martin will spin the success until we’re all fed up listening but, it does not detract from the fact that it did happen and for this he deserves credit.
    Bear in mind too, re the ‘brown envelopes’ this party was not the only one, Fine Gael were also seriously implicated in this and even in inner city Dublin a certain Independent Deputy, who supported the then Fianna Fáil government in return for housing in the north inner city, demanded similar envelopes for organising tenancies.

  • RegisterForThisSite

    The Irish people and STV will always surprise, however can’t see too much growth or success for FF until they manage to oust the old guard, including I’d say MM.

    At the moment FG, FF, and SF are pretty much on the same market share 2 of those parties will be the next government, SF has laid out it’s stall already, not sure if FG or FF really have a plan as yet.

    Disagree with the first half of your post but agree with the second

  • Roy Walsh

    Register, I’m afraid the first part of my previous post is an historical and constitutional fact, I wish it were otherwise, The Netherlands, Greece, France, Spain, Denmark, Italy and others all suffered massive economic collapse due to the deregulation of all financial markets, AIG dropped too as well as the banks.
    Don’t discount a good showing, probably next year, from Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin in the general election and a probability they will combine, with some independents, to form a new comhrialtas tuar ceatha.
    As Mick states above, civil war politics has died, punts in pockets is what matters to our people today.

  • RegisterForThisSite

    no still disagree Roy, the FF gov of the day had ample taxation avenues they could have gone down to dampen the property bubble but instead continued with policies that made Ireland’s crash so painful compared to others.

    But I think our disagreement is really over how low to set the bar. I’m not impressed with FF surely they understand that still having the old guard clinging on just reminds people of who they are, which is why they’re still near their core vote of 17% but then again I’m not sure if they have any new kids that are capable of stepping up

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s a crucial question. MM may be ‘old guard’, but he’s not what you’d say was classic ‘coming man’ FF leadership material. A party completely cut off from its heritage is not a political party at all.

    One of the best examples of that was Martin getting interviewed on Morning Ireland the day after the party’s Ard Fheis when he was interviewed about the introduction of the smoking ban.

    He played it totally straight bat. Didn’t try to join the dots for the listeners. But it was a vivid reconnection to his personal record and one of the better aspects of pre crash FF.

    If they had dumped everyone who was pre crash they’d not be able to connect with that deeper heritage. People like Mary Hanifin cause ruckles, but you see how powerful the individual machines are when she walked back into Blackrock and thumped through the opposition rather than replacing young Ms Feeney.

    The question now switches to the future rather than the past. Have their new intake got what it takes to face the future challenges facing the country??

  • RegisterForThisSite

    @Mick Fealty

    All valid points Mick, but they’re points for political anoraks I don’t think the man in the street would approach it from that angle, for instance, you’re right about Hanifin, but we all knew about it not to see if her individual machine would preform but because it was FF failing to organise a booze up in a brewery, I mean it wasn’t far off NI21 skills, one headless chicken was a disaster and the other headless chicken a success but they’re still both headless chickens.

    Just to add Mick in the recent elections most of the parties were akin to Schrodingers cat, until the boxes were opened and counted we really didn’t know if they were alive or dead, as a republican, I’d say Sinn Fein was the only one that came out alive and kicking North and South, Local and European

  • Roy Walsh

    Register, we’ll agree to disagree. There were of course ways to have dampened the economy but the burst came too late to have taken any appropriate action.
    No opposition parties raised any valid concerns about the ‘over-heated economy’ ’til c. 2008 and none, as I recall, brought forward any private members motions to change the direction of the then government parties, for many years including the politically neo-liberal Progressive Democrats on whom Fianna Fáil on relied for governmental support.
    A case for all Oireachtas members of ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’!
    I have some sympathy to the ‘old guard’ being too old view however, by analogy, were the ministers of education here to make policy removing all teachers over 45 years from teaching posts since they were too old, set in their ways and therefore unable to deliver a 21st Century education system to our children there would be uproar, not from the thousands of young emigrating teacher graduates, who are also cheaper to employ, but from parents concerned at the potential direction rudderless and inexperienced school crews would steer their offspring.
    The same is true of the Fianna Fáil party I suspect, as it will be with the Labour Party, you need the experienced hand at the tiller to steer a holed vessel through political mines. So, for now, the best person to do this for that party seems to be Michéal Martin, there are others but they need come through a few years cutting their opposition teeth.
    Mick, I was listening to Mary Hanafin earlier and it seems all is forgotten, and forgiver there, as predicted by Brian Dobson, again, credit to the two candidates, Mary Hanafin will probably ‘coach’ the young pretender who will be there for the future, a political masterstroke for the party being binned by RTE and Newstalk, Indo and Examiner some three to three and a half years ago.
    I would never write off Fianna Fail, or their very real ability to connect to ordinary Irish people since, as I said above,their natural base is ‘middle Ireland’ with appeal to the aspiring working class too, regardless of how they were painted.

  • Roncol

    The more interesting point is that the size of the right wing vote actually increased having fallen in the past number of elections. FF regained some of its middle class and rural vote, e.g. it took too council seats in Clontarf but failed completely in the North Inner city and strengthened its position in places like Tipperary,

    The non right wing vote is all over the place and should ensure the next Government will be a FG/FF or FF/FG coalition, holding perhaps two thirds of the seats.

    I agree with the comment above that many FG & Lab voters sat on their hands and will be out at a General Election. The reasonable showing of SF (not as good as is being made out at 15% in the LE) gives FG an effective bogey man to fight. FF will be busily rejecting any links with SF so as not to tarred with the fascist and criminal tags that are still used to describe SF in Dublin middle class circles.

    Also many of the Independents are not really independent, for example in Dublin City Niall Ring is part of the FF gene pool, Ruairi McGinley, similar for FG & Paddy Bourke & Éilis Ryan are from a Labour background

    FF have managed to get a small number of new faces elected, which will be useful for the General Election.

    However the complete failure of SF to attract high quality candidates in Ireland, whatever about UKNI remains a huge problem. They remain a party of lumpen elements.

  • Roy Walsh

    Roncol, I know it is foolish to discount any political possibility, especially here but, despite what I said above about ‘civil war politics’ it would be a foolish Uachtarán Fianna Fáil who would suggest to an Ard Fheis that the party of de Valera go into any form of government with the blueshirts.
    There are members therein who still rankle over the Paddy Donegan comments re: an Uachtarán Ó Dálaigh.
    Even the possibility of coalition with Sinn Fein would be too much for many older members of the Fianna Fáil membership but I’d suspect one they could swallow, the alternative you propose would, in my opinion (I have family in both) be too much for all it’s members, mind you, democracy put Haughey and Gregory together so!

  • Mick Fealty

    It is very hard to anticipate exactly where things will lie after this election. It’s notable from the Irish Times article linked on the independents thread just how many Fianna Fáil counsellors dipped out of flying the party flag just beforehand.

    I think one major corollary of this stronger than expected showing is that more old ‘soldiers’ may emerge from their various foxholes, and join a more explicit and politically aggressive campaign.