Time for Fianna Fáil to end its northern election taboo?

The Sunday Business Post reported yesterday that Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is “delaying his decision on whether to run candidates in the North” amid concerns in the party about the impact of Brexit.

It’s nearly four years since the party called for active and serious participating and engagement in the political process in the North and decided that “…the party should begin fielding candidates for election there for 2019“.

To make any meaningful impact on the elections to the 11 local councils in the north the party would need to be announcing candidates for that poll in early-mid 2018 to give potential councillors an opportunity to build up a profile and do some groundwork ahead of the election.

As Patricia outlined earlier this year the time could not be more right for Fianna Fáil to contest polls in the north. The latest polling shows that the SDLP has less than a third of the support Sinn Féin currently has.

In the aftermath of this year’s Assembly, election SDLP members were openly discussing possible ‘realignment’ with Fianna Fáil. However, no-one in the SDLP will jump ship if there’s nowhere to jump to.

Putting politics to one side, the organisational dilemma facing Fianna Fáil is one of chicken and egg.

They would, of course, prefer to launch themselves in the north with an array of candidates and an infrastructure in place to ensure that a respectable level of groundwork was done over the next year and a half.

That’s not going to happen. Hard work comes before any electoral success.

If it stands the party will have to start off with a very small cadre of councillors, hope for a number of defections from the SDLP and to a lesser degree Sinn Féin and grow over time aided by a much stronger membership base in the south and a Dublin platform that the SDLP currently does not have.

The party has certainly given the impression that they were preparing the ground for allowing their members to carry the Fianna Fáil flag at the next northern council election after electing Omagh Councillor Sorcha McAnespie to the party’s executive in October.

The article in today’s paper does not indicate that a decision has been made about standing candidates in the north so Fianna Fáil may simply be flying a kite to see what the reaction of its grassroots would be to such a U-turn.

Establishing itself in the north will not be an easy process for Fianna Fáil. However, if they do not make the leap in 2019 nationalists here will see it as yet another example of ‘southern abandonment’ and if Brexit turns out to be the reason for it it will be seen as a poor excuse.

The organisation of more parties in both the north and the south can only be a good thing for northern nationalists – especially in the context of Brexit. The sky will not fall in on Fianna Fáil if they contest elections island wide.

It’s time they broke this electoral taboo once and for all.