Fianna Fail has to become about Big Ireland in order to have a future

A few days ago I wrote about Sinn Fein and the need for parts of the media to drop their obsession with Gerry Adams. Writing about a topic a bit closer to my own heart, Fianna Fail has some real challenges going into 2015.

Let’s recap, the party suffered an all merciful hiding at the last election losing 58 seats, falling from 41.6% to 17.4% in the popular vote and seeing many of its prospects for the future losing their seats.

Fast forward to this year and the party after some steady progress over the last two years finds itself in a difficult position as it sits on around 19% in the polls and is now consistently either tied with or polling behind Sinn Fein and Fine Gael.

The party did win the local elections, but the surge of Sinn Fein dominating the European result seemed to take some of the shine off the party’s 25.1% result.

So what is the problem?

Never was a truer word spoken in politics than when one of Tony Blair’s advisors told him, that Labour would always be secure in power as long as he could answer one key question “what’s the point of you?”

This is the central question facing the party at the moment.

Since the party’s foundation in 1926, the strength of the organisation lay in the fact that it was bridge between the West of Ireland and Dublin. Rural small farmers, big industrial titans and middle class battlers, all found something within Fianna Fail.

In short, Fianna Fail was the Late Late Show of Irish political parties; the party had something for everyone in the audience.

Then came along the economic crisis and the broad church that for years had sustained the party, fell apart under an economy that was in deep recession.

The current party you see today is what’s left.

For the party to properly rebound it needs to embrace the fact that it is now free from the shackles of the broad church.

The party needs to be brave enough to recognise that there are whole sections of the population, who might have voted for Fianna Fail in the past, which are never going to come back.

This could be seen as a burden or an opportunity. An opportunity to create a totally different political proposition within Irish politics

Under Bertie Ahern, many things in Irish politics became very minimalist. A lot of targeting and micro policy was developed in areas such as education, health, infrastructure and culture.

Essentially there was no big picture.

Fianna Fail in its past did engage in the parish pump part of Irish politics, but this was always secondary to the national picture. DeValera had the constitution, Lemass had free trade, Lynch had the EEC membership, Haughey had the IFSC and Reynolds had the infrastructure funds from Europe.

Behind each lay a vision to place another block on building an independent Irish state.

Fianna Fail needs to get back to this model. It must resist and fight against some of the parish pump temptations that it had succumbed to in the past.

Fianna Fail has to be about “Big Ireland”

Big Ireland has to be about big national projects that end western alienation, makes the midlands feel more connected and keeps Dublin strong, without making it the show in town on the island.

Projects like a National Broadband Network, Inter-city motorways connecting all major population centres in Ireland and many others like them can help create a narrative that is desperately lacking in Irish politics at the moment.

A future government cannot be about populism, gimmicks or tripping over camera cords in shopping centres. Rather discipline, method and delivery have to become the new watchwords of the party.

The example of Lemass shows that Irish people will go for the efficient technocrat model.

Promising a big picture, then delivering it is the future.

There is another important aspect of this of course. When I look at Sinn Fein and see their strength in parts of the island, I think they have a winning strategy.

Their willingness to alienate whole sections of the electorate is something that is actually incredibly clever, as it anchors the working class base that they want within the Sinn Fein fold. An entirely new breed of voter has discovered Sinn Fein over the past three years and my punt is that they won’t leave them anytime soon as they have been given a secure home.

They are one of the first parties to realise that the era of the parish pump is beginning to end as voters seek something new.

The big Ireland model that seeks to lead the debate and not please everybody is the way forward for Fianna Fail.

Could this fail? Of course, but the party is in third place, averaging 19% in the polls and is not being rewarded in the polls for any of its critiques against the government. We need to ask why?

The advantage of being third is that few people notice you. The leadership should be bold, brave and try something new.

Big picture, big policies geared towards creating a Big Ireland.

That’s the future, not the parish pumping of the past; otherwise what’s the point of you?

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  • Ernekid

    Does this big Ireland involve the North? If so I struggle to see how big of a market there is for Fianna Fáil in the North. How much of an organisation in the six counties is there? Is there any chance of Fianna Fáil candidates for the Assembly in 2016. I’m attracted to Sinn Fein to an extent because they have an anti partitionist All Ireland outlook. You can’t say the same about FF

  • Kevin Breslin

    There is a Fianna Fáil market in the North, at the very least it is one restricted to the enthusiasts within their regional cummans (societies) including the one at Queen’s University Belfast and one regionally in Fermanagh and a few other places. There’s quite a few people who would want the option, even a few unionists might agree with them on fiscal matters if not tribal matters and forge cross community partnerships they couldn’t get with Sinn Féin or the SDLP. Of course that’s like saying Sinn Féin could do the same with the PUP, I guess.

    They should stand, I have no problem with them standing, they might even shake up Sinn Féin and the SDLP by doing so, through more competition.

    The micro-major argument is a difficult ride for any party to get hooked up on because the voter’s bottom line can be either or, and it’s relativist that something major to one group, will inevitably be minor to another e.g. “Flegs”.

    I have no problem with Fianna Fáil moving north or even the Tories or some form of pseudo-Tories moving into the South (so long as they can get a mandate on that ticket instead of relying on defections e.g. Gerry McHugh MLA and the polar opposite Brian Crowley MEP spring to mind) Conservatives and Fianna Fáil have been elected in both Dublin and Belfast administrations before.

  • Jag

    “A future government cannot be about populism, gimmicks or tripping over camera cords in shopping centres. ” God bless you, David and your innocence, I hope you’ve set out a nice tray for Santy and the reindeers, cake and a glass of port, isn’t it, and a carrot for the flying reindeer, you never know, this might be THE year when you actually catch him coming down the chimney of your apartment.

    A future government should be about populism, as originally defined, and represent the needs of society without exclusion.
    If you can name me one government in the democratic world, from the US to Sweden which doesn’t do gimmicks, bump fists with teenagers, kiss babies or trip over themselves to get on TV (having a platform is the bread and butter of politics), if you can name such a righteous government, I’ll stay up tomorrow night in solidarity with you waiting for my Lamborghini, though after my performance this year, I more likely to be visited by the Krampus.

  • Jag

    No, there’s no prospect of FF fighting the Assembly elections in 2016 (if it doesn’t collapse beforehand or in the next half hour). Beyond Eamon O’Cuiv and Brendan Smith, there’s very little appetite to fund the groundwork to build an organisation in the North. It’s a stupid decision really, because they should be able to observe what a North-South presence is doing for SF. In May 2015, you’ll have the full all-Ireland weight of SF putting its weight behind the Westminster elections, might only get them an extra seat and less than 5% extra, but that’s the future.

  • Dec

    The starting point for you has to be to realise neither Sinn fein nor it’s leader are as toxic as you think (or wish).

  • Kevin Breslin

    The Worker’s Party, The Socialist Party, People before Profit, Erígí and many other groups fight elections cross border too, the Greens effectively still do it as well as a movement.

    Why is it stupid for Fianna Fáil to try to build a small grassroots movement in the North based on the demand there? Frankly why would it be wrong for the SDLP to do the reverse if they wanted to, even merge with what probably remains of the Irish Labour party to form a new organisation all together?

    There is a large constituency of Sinn Féin voters who’s loyalty is only based on the fact they are an all-Ireland party… they are not the only all-Ireland party and they lost a councilor in West Belfast to another all-Ireland party sitting on their laurels on that one.

    Fianna Fáil don’t have to join the SDLP and piggyback on their parade, they could start with a few councilors and try to build up to the assembly like UKIP do in the UK. Heck they can have a Fianna Fáil an Tuasiceart group and fight for profile like the NI Conservatives (or whatever they are calling themselves these days)

    The DUP have eight Westminster seats and an MEP, but that means nothing. What is the real purpose of the Democratic Unionist Party anyway, they are so confident of the outreach of their social and economic policy and the pragmatism of voters to give their local hard working constituency politician their vote on their merits that they’ll erm … they’ll surrender four or five seats to put up a unionist unity candidate who has little to no profile in the area.

    Has a successful Democratic Unionist Party really exhibited the merits of the union? Is really what unionists think is keeping them from a United Ireland? I don’t think the majority of unionists who don’t vote the DUP agree to that.

  • SwayL

    In Canada, the Conservative party appeals to its base first with typical right wing issues, e.g. crime, and has been very successful at this. Our PM is confrontational, by no means all things to all men, and his voters seem to like that.

  • Steve Larson

    Until Micheal Martin and others like him are gone there will be no real movement on building in the North.

    Many in the party, especially in HQ are strongly opposed.

    It boils down to more competition and a challenge to existing power structures and networks.

    I think it would save FF, new blood, no past back scratching deals to be repaid.

    Lot of people in the party now would happily not organize in the other 3

  • Steve Larson

    in the other 31counties, as long as they were a TD or cllr or their man was in their county.

    The problems have only gotten worse since 2011.

  • Steve Larson

    SF have momentum and a plan and a cohesive party.

    FF at this stage is a collective of TD’s based on past glory. Micheal Martin has no loyalty or respect from the parliamentary party. He can;t control them because he is tolerated not respected.

    The membership still believe that the old days will return, that is the ones who don’t see it as a chance to climb in a wounded party.

    FF in Dublin are non-existent in reality, the structure to mount a come back is not there.

    Stable in the polls but the organizational rot has only accelerated.

    Still in big long term trouble. Will survive but will have to fight hard to keep around the 20% in years to come.

  • Steve Larson

    FF should merge with the SDLP or the half that would be interested in it.

    Lets face it, the SDLP are lost souls themselves and are directionless.

    It would provide a structure, a base vote and vitalize both sides.

    As is, they are both just being hollowed out by the Shinners long term.

  • Telbar Comuta

    Is it possible the reason that FF is not being rewarded for its critiques against the government is that every single unpopular policy of the present government exists because of the previous FF government, and that water charges, for example, had to be introduced as a result of an agreement signed by FF. Just how short do you think people’s memories are?

  • Fraggle

    I think FF & FG will be merging in the furture, even if only to keep the others out.

  • Croiteir

    I have been speaking to a fellow who I tracked down who was involved in the recent attempt to set up in the north. He basically told me that the FF HQ and the topmost echelons with the exception of a notable few was against it and just kept promising but not supporting, directing or nurturing the move in any way. He felt it was a façade designed by HQ and the top table to hoodwink the party faithful that something was happening and fly the green flag. He reckoned that they were used.

    However I do think that there is a market for FF or a party of its general view, or at least its core values of republicanism of the centre. I am not even sure if the present FF is that party however.
    MM is moving the party to be more left wing and liberal. (I cite the recent statement that he would go into a pact with Labour but not anyone else and the vote on abortion were he ignored the Ard Fheis resolutions). Even his republicanism is being diluted, his announcement that unity is “a unity of people rather than a unity of territory” A clear break from traditional republicanism and typical of woolly wishy washy liberal doublespeak.
    There is a clear constituency which is not being catered for. It is not left wing, but has both socially liberal and conservative voters, it contains both catholic and protestant voters who see the advantage of a Ireland ran as a single political and economic unit with the benefits accrued from the non duplication of services and so on.
    It is clear that FF have not any intention of moving north. They are just as partitionist as the SDLP UUP or DUP. They may aspire to a united Ireland but beyond singing about the fourth green field over a few pints in the pub they do nothing about it. This is obvious in many subtle and not to subtle ways. Have a look at the map of Ireland on their landing page at http://www.fiannafail.ie, it shows the mindset, Michael Martin went on a national tour, did he visit any of the fora?
    Michael Martin has made a few speeches most which have been mostly self serving. (With the exception of the one to students at Queens).
    I cannot help think that if someone had started an all-Ireland party which catered for northern people who were centre of the road it will do moderately well. If Lucinda Creighton had not the horrific baggage of FG on her back she may be able to cater for that market.

  • Croiteir

    To show how stupid it was MM declared that FF would contest elections in the north in 2019, despite the obvious putting it on the long finger, (do you think he does not like the recruits they have and are trying to get rid of them?), he has really told SF to concentrate on the south as there will be no serious contention in the north. Idiot. It also said to me that the party was not serious, by 2019 there will be a new leader and the promise made will not be binding on a new leader.
    I do believe that with MM FF is on a controlled decline,