A tentative answer to the question: “what does Fianna Fail stand for?”

So miles away from the talk of pacts and sectarian games last Friday, East Galway Colm Keaveney, the former Irish Labour Party Chair who has been one of the few movers across to the Fianna Fail whip in the Dail, had an interesting grilling from NewsTalk’s Sean Moncrieff in Galway:

It takes a while to get started but this section in particular caught caught my ear, not least because it has been one of the few lucid public attempts by someone actually inside the party to answer the question of what Fianna Fail stands for:

Colm Keaveney: I have had meetings where I have had the Financial Times flung in my face asking me “What are you trying to do, cause a run in the markets”. But what about the run on parents, what about the run on the lunchbox. You know the human story was lost. I discovered that we were a government of technocrats, technocratically taking decisions without any consideration for the next generation that were going to inherit the society.

Sean Moncreith: [Reading from a listener] “Hard to get past Colm Keaveney joining Fianna Fail”. Given all you’ve said about all that bad stuff being associated with Fianna Fail.

CK: Yeah, I was post being kicked out by the Labour party and I found my voting track record being consistent with Fianna Fail in Opposition. And for your listeners I want them to bear in mind that there was a 3.2 million Euro mental health facility, never opened, at Ballinasloe a 22 bedded unit. The only ligature free unit in this country was never opened so that vulnerable people suffering from incidents of mental ill health were to present themselves at GUH at an accident and emergency unit, a major no no in regards to mental health.

And I needed to be involved in a political party, that were going to respect my views on mental health and the party of Fianna Fail have a very proud record in the area of mental health and mental health investment. And I asked Micheal Martin would he take me on board, and he positively considered it and I think both of us get on very well in that respect.

SM: At this juncture what does Fianna Fail stand for? One could be forgiven for thinking “I don’t know” is the answer.

CK No listen, you know I wake up in Dublin and when I was a young student I remember north inner city of Dublin as being just like Harlem. There was no public transport system, there was significant long term unemployment, depression. A heroin problem that made every other capital city fade into insignificance. It was a dark place, and I think we forget very quickly a lot of the good things.

SM: You mean the redevelopment of the inner city of Dublin?

CK: I’m talking about the investment into infrastructure, into education and giving people the opportunity to succeed in life.

SM: But sure didn’t that happen because Tony Gregory put a gun to Charlie Haughey’s head?

CK: No, it’s far more advanced than that because I’m now talking about other parts and other urban settings. You come and look at Galway and see how far Galway has advanced, and many aspects of it are good. But in terms of ideology, for me simply Fianna Fail didn’t look down its nose at people wanting to get on in life. It gave an opportunity to people who weren’t a monied class. It gave an opportunity for people to get on in terms of personal development, career, you had a right to get into college and it gave an opportunity for ordinary people to get on.

SM: And you’re talking about Fianna Fail here?

CK: The only political party to analysis on Fianna Fail was the Communist Party of Ireland. Fianna Fail were the envy of every other party in Ireland because they had the support of working people. And to be fair yes, it was contaminated by the Progressive Democrats over a ten or fifteen year period.

SM: Ah, Colm come on, have you had a glass of the Prosecco already?

CK: Fianna Fail traditionally, and many people would say this, were the real Labour party in this country.

SM: They were traditionally the party of working class people.

CK: But what is social democracy in this country? It is about giving people an opportunity, it’s about equality, it’s about education, it’s about giving people the right to the best based on their own circumstances. We now have a political party and a political government which is protecting the elite, and that needs to be challenged.

SM: And Fianna Fail never did that? Fianna Fail didn’t construct a large tent not two miles from here?

CK: Yeah, I am not saying that every decision Fianna Fail made in the past was perfect, but that the only political…

SM: Yeah but that wasn’t a decision, that was a culture, endemic in that party at that time.

CK: Listen there are political parties in the Irish mainstream who go internationally funding to New York, who host dinners, we can’t get accountability and transparency on that money

SM: Ah we’re not talking about Fianna Fail now, let’s get back to Fianna Fail?

CK: There are certain decisions in the past that Fianna Fail have had the humility to say they have made mistakes in, unlike other political parties.

SM: Sure they had no option, they were eviscerated at the polls.

CK: And you know politics is about the future, and I appreciate that a lot of people, particularly the government, want to keep a focus on the past, but I’m elected for tomorrow, I’m elected for the next generation. I’m not elected to analyse the past, I don’t close the door on the past. I’m learning from the past. We have to move on in this country, and we have give people a chance to go and challenge the orthodoxy of national politics.

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

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