Fianna Fáil, firmly embedded in the history of the Irish state, now need to articulate its future

Oh yes, Irish Politics… This is worth noting in passing. Fianna Fail are suffering something of the same hangover that befuddled first the Tory party and latterly the British Labour Party. Being in power for so long that you lose your direction and purpose. Gary Murphy puts some bones on that in the Examiner..

Martin’s jibe that Fine Gael are too right-wing was not just some throwaway remark but had its roots in Fianna Fáil’s long history.

Fianna Fáil always viewed themselves as the real Labour party; the party of social and economic progress, the party of free secondary education, the party which copperfastened economic sovereignty by engaging with Europe when they realised self-sufficiency had had its day.

They were the party of the people who had their dinner in the middle of the day, not the party of the developers and the bankers, the party who offered people hope, who made it possible for their lives to be better, and for their children to have more opportunities than they had. The party which offered the people a safety net through social welfare when they needed it. That’s what Fianna Fáil in essence stood for.

All this changed in recent years as Martin sat at the cabinet table.

Under Ahern and his finance ministers Charlie McCreevy and Brian Cowen, Fianna Fáil discarded its careful reputation as a party that could be trusted to keep a close eye on the economic tiller to one which effectively adopted an ‘if I have it I spend it’ philosophy.

Married to this was a political hubris which was dismissive of any warning voices.

Truly Icarus in the guise of Fianna Fáil had flown too close to the sun. The result was a scarring burn not just across the party but across all of Irish society with the loss of economic sovereignty.

When the economic Armageddon came Fianna Fáil was directly in the firing line and took the consequences at the 2011 general election.

Recognising that the local elections reveal the party still has some popular local resonance, Murphy concludes:

Many might feel that there is a touch of self-delusion and hubris about Martin claiming he wants to be Taoiseach after the next general election with his party stuck at 18% in the polls, just a point higher than its 2011 general election result.

Nevertheless, there would not be much point in him being in politics if he did not want to be Taoiseach.

The reality, however, is Fianna Fáil has not captured the public imagination with any distinctive policy programme, either right or left.

Moreover, it faces its old ghosts coming back to haunt it as the recent spectre of Mary Hanafin’s local election victory and biting comments about its frontbench shows.

Martin would be denying the history of his party if he said he would be willing to enter government with Fine Gael on the right or Sinn Féin on the left.

The danger he faces, however, is that the electorate might feel that neither right nor left Fianna Fáil offers no future to them.


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  • Cal Murray

    and the current leader’s wiki

    ” Prior to becoming party leader, Martin served as Minister for Education and Science (1997–2000), Minister for Health and Children (2000–04), Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (2004–08) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (2008–11).”

    some old ghosts never left, they just make sure friendly hacks airbrush them out of family portraits

    And a lot of people expect him to jump into government with FG at the first opportunity

  • mickfealty

    I’m sure they do. But it makes for decent politics to make sure you nail it down first whilst others are vacillating and hedging their bets.

    Most of the work Martin has put in has been at the base level and to the neglect of the public narrative. That sort of explains the poor showing in the Euros and but the strong showing at council level.

    Under STV, you build from the base up or you don’t build at all.

    FG is and remains their main target. It suits both to keep that way. With a decent recovery under way, we might expect FG (and maybe even Labour under Burton) to get a bit of a bounce over the next year or so if it continues.

    FF has to say it’s pitching for government, but IIRC Martin was comparing the job ahead with the job Enda had done for FG. That’s a ten year span, not five.

    They need, desperately, to expand the talent pool through the new intake. That means pushing up the representation as far as possible. If they fall short of FG, then pitch back into opposition and let FG pick from either Sinn Fein or Labour (if they are still competitive enough).

  • Croiteir

    Yet Hanafin did better than the “new face” in the locals which kind of blew apart the myth the old guard were unelectable in spite of the new face Kate Feeney getting promoted at and on every stage.

    FF problem is not that. Its problem is that it is not getting back its deserters to FG after it made an arse of the economy that it built.
    It is also ideologically squeezed.
    The shinners are attracting both republican and working class votes.
    Fine Gael, in spite of breaking its abortion promise is attracting/keeping the socially conservative and the right wing in general.
    FF has nowhere to go. So I agree that FF have to redefine themselves, but where on the political spectrum is it to go?
    It has tried to wrap the green flag around it by looking north, but the northern nationalists have been betrayed and used by them too many times to be bothered. So that failed.
    It has tried social liberalism but Labour and SF do it better so that has failed.
    It cannot do a U-turn now on that so FG will keep the social conservative. They will also hold the centre/right of centre – the only prospective competitor on that spectrum maybe RA. So that is a safe constituency for them.
    So it is hard to see how FF can position itself. It has sold out its traditional voter, never bothered with the northern voter in spite of the national integrity being part of its primary stated aims, and destroyed the legacy of its greatest men.
    In short it has betrayed everything it stood for. It really has a tough task ahead to convince people that it has changed. And its newer middle class cohort, the so called Fianna Fáil Nua, do not fill me with confidence in their ability to know how the plain people of Ireland think.
    I think a future of decline is ahead, more reminiscent of the English Liberal Party perhaps?

  • mickfealty

    I don’t know Croit. The council results suggests that some deserters have come back. I’d feel more confident about SF’s path forward if they’d shown an appetite for government (which is FF’s real forte)…

    SF have attained (in the short term at least) their base camp objective which is the evisceration of Labour. The pivot to FF on a rising economic tide is another thing altogether.

    The question I keep confronting is how do you hold on to one when stretching for the other?

  • Croiteir

    I would point out that the councils are different. They are influenced by local issues and local personalities. Look at the divergence of results for FF in the councils and the euros on the same day. That is more indicative of the likely outcome of a GE. Only Crowley done well, and he gave two fingers to HQ also by leaving ALDE.
    I would argue the recovering economy, and today’s figures were simply amazingly good, works against FF. Why change a winning FG hand?
    I simply cannot see how FF can gain anywhere near enough votes to be anything other than an electoral has been for the near and middle future.

  • tmitch57

    “Fianna Fail are suffering something of the same hangover that befuddled
    first the Tory party and latterly the British Labour Party. Being in
    power for so long that you lose your direction and purpose.”

    FF have had much more practice in dealing with this problem than have either of the two main British parties as during the 20th century they averaged about a decade in government at a stretch with FG and its coalition partners in power for about 3.5 years at a stretch between these longer FF periods. FF will probably claim that only they are equipped to properly deal with the North and there is always the charge that Bruton is giving away the country’s history by departing from the standard republican narrative. They might even be able to wring a few votes out of the Irish language.

  • gunterprien

    Nobody under the age of 40 will vote for FFailures again.
    FF are existing only due to the old guard. And they won’t live forever.