Take a position or face irrelevance – The FF choice?

Fianna Fail needs to decide on its path for the future.  Most of all it needs to decide who it represents according to Communications Consultant John McGuirk.


A year ago today, two of Fianna Fáil’s biggest stars were its young, attractive, articulate Senator for North Dublin, Averil Power, and it’s poll-topping, gravity-defying MEP for Munster, Brian Crowley. In the most barren era for the party since its foundation, members could point to both as examples of the party’s continued life, and its bright future.


This afternoon, it is without both. Brian Crowley could not bring himself to sit, as commanded, with Europe’s liberal left, and walked across the floor of the European Parliament to sit with the Tories. Averil Power could not bring herself to stay in a party with so many conservatives, and has walked away to plough her own, liberal furrow. Fianna Fáil tried to accommodate both, and has ended up with neither.


The referendum on marriage has exposed the fissure in the party clearly, and it must now be addressed. While the leadership were printing posters calling for a yes vote, local councillors were running adverts calling for a no vote. The party leader took a position, and the candidate in Carlow-Kilkenny refused to endorse it, while his constituency colleague announced he was voting the other way.


To people in Fianna Fáil, this can be rationalised. To the rest of us, it looks like a party that has no idea who it represents or why. With a national conflict on abortion barely simmering away in the background, these divides are only going to become more pronounced if the party continues on its present course.


If it were merely social issues, you might say that Fianna Fáil could adopt a conscience clause, a la Renua, and move forward, but that is not the end of it. This is a party whose instincts are divided on taxation, on public sector reform, on health, on foreign policy, and on almost every issue you can think of. If divisions on social issues are to the fore right now, then divisions on the EU and other issues will be to the fore later.


Irish politics is rapidly changing. There is a bold and ascendant new liberalism in the country that increasingly challenges parties and politicians to choose sides, and live with the consequences. Silence, as practiced by so many Fianna Fáil representatives over the past month, is no longer an option, for silence is only confirmation of your own irrelevance.


The point of politics, as practiced by political parties, is to win power with a view to changing the country. The point of Fianna Fáil, it seems, is to win power. What it would do with that power is anybody’s guess – and until it decides the answer to that question, it stands no chance of meaningful recovery.



The party must now realise that the time when it could be all things to all people is over. The internal war that should have been fought in 2011 may be finally about to break out, and for the sake of the party, there needs to be a clear winner.


The war cannot be about trivia – the leadership, the manifesto, internal structures. In truth, none of these things matter in the longer term. Instead the party must figure out what, and most importantly, who, it stands for.


The party can choose to compete with Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Fein, the Greens, and any number of independents for the approval of the Irish Times and the radically liberal Dublin voters it craves, or it can choose to become a populist, tax-cutting, reforming party that fights for those who work and are overtaxed, those who feel left out of the national conversation, those who do not accept the consensus on social issues, and those who want to see their values defended, not derided.


Either choice is valid. Irrelevance, simply, is not.

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  • Sliothar

    Good posting and a much more forensic and objective dissection of FF’s problems than Derek Mooney’s party political on an adjacent thread. Averil Power was right to walk. Micheal Martin, if he wants to lead his party out of the doldrums, had better get some concrete, secular and forward thinking policies in his bag rather than focus on his single one of slamming SF’s shortcomings.

  • Ernekid

    Fianna Fáil are in a similar position to the SDLP. They need to figure out what they stand for and they need to do so rapidly.

    With the loss of Power will Fianna Fáil manage to meet the new gender quota rules for party candidates? Do FF have any other women in the Party?

  • Antain Mac Lochlainn

    Her criticism of the FF front bench was spot on. They are clearly pulling in all directions. The only thing stopping several of them from making a leadership bid is the dreadful prospect of it actually being successful. And when you look at the remaining TDs, it’s hard to see a leader (a) untainted by the Ahern/Cowen era or (b) charismatic or articulate enough to be a party leader.

  • Libero

    Good piece but a little unfortunate to refer to Brian Crowley walking across the floor.

  • 1498

    there is a huge ‘gap in the market’ in Irish politics at present.
    The 750,000 voters who voted no in the recent marriage referendum, (largely from rural areas) feel they have no voice, and feel let down by the political system.
    Fianna Fail are not listening to their rural roots, but to the clamour of the liberal Dublin media.
    They have lost touch with the ordinary people.

  • JohnTheOptimist

    A brilliant post by John McGuirk.

    The choice should not be difficult.

    The 62 per cent who voted ‘Yes’ have in recent years had six parties scrambling for their votes: FF, FG, Lab, SF, Greens, and the SWP/AAA/PBF extreme left groupings.

    62 divided by 6 equals just over 10 per cent

    The 38 per cent who voted ‘No’ have in recent years had no parties scrambling for their votes.

    If FF start fishing for votes in this pool, their potential catch (38 per cent) is potentially far greater than fishing in the other pool, where, although its larger in size by a ration of 62 to 38, the catch has to be shared with five other political groupings.

    Its a no brainer!

  • Paul Rowley

    The fact that Bobby Aylward won the by-election, Mary Hanafin declaring she’s going for a place on the election ticket and Sean Haughey up for a nomination in Power’s constituency shows how the 2011 “If you’re old guard, don’t run” Martin statement rings hollow. It’s more like he feels he needs the old heavy vote getters and has reverted to the old style FF. Martin needed to clean out the party, instead he’s bringing back the old mindset. Ireland has moved on, FF hasn’t.

  • Steve Larson

    Irrelevance is a safe place and many a FF TD will get back in thanks to local work. Less candidates running this time.

    They are cruising and not risking their own seats. The party can go jump is the attitude.

  • Joe Burns

    What has really become irrelevant is Party Politics. This form of dictatorship has outlived its purpose. As your story proves, politicians are willing to risk expulsion from their party by putting their constituents or conscience before the whims of the party leader. I wasn’t aware that some FF campaigned against. That explains a lot about Averil Power, a true believer in the Whip System and usually against the will of the people if her record is anything to go on.

    Unfortunately the Irish are a nation of sheep and politics has entered the age of X Factor Politics, populism is all the rage, rage being an apt description of what happened in the referendum. Many sheep didn’t understand that this wasn’t about voting against the church. The separation of Church & State occurred a long time ago if anyone cares to read the constitutional amendments. Many also misunderstood the question they were being asked. It wasn’t; “If you support ss marriage, vote yes”.

    It wont be long now until the penny drops and an Irish citizen is standing before the supreme court asking the judges how they gave away their rights to the government only to be told that they demanded it.

    Democracy is not down entirely to politicians, it requires the citizens to understand and take part in the democratic process. As the Irish have already given away Ireland’s sovereignty under Nice & Lisbon Treaties, given away our parental rights under the guise of giving children a magical set of rights, which they removed from parents, and now we have given away our gender, our family rights and the right of every child under the UNCRC art 7, 8 & 10 to their biological parents, I have no confidence in the Irish public even understands what democracy is about.

    Whatever the elections bring, it will be decided on a populist vote. It would benefit any political party to rage against the church as they would be assured of a 60% margin. The Irish deserve the government they allow. Be careful what you ask for.

  • A) FF was, and remains a patronage network masquerading as a political party. Without patronage to distribute, it will wither on the vine and die. Simple as.

    B) In shocking development, John McGuirk thinks Ireland is crying out for a Tea Party style band of economically reactionary social conservatives. The continued failure of Renua to register beyond the margin of error in most national polls despite the wide open goal suggests otherwise.

  • scepticacademic

    That last bit sounds like the British Labour Party (substitute Blair/Brown/Balls for Ahern/Cowan).

  • Steve Larson

    We had the B option in the PDs.

    All they did was support corrupt politicians like Haughey and Ahern in power.