A political schism of more than 35 years has ended with the return of the Blaney clan’s Independent Fianna Fail grouping into the party it split from in 1970.
Donegal TD Niall Blaney gave his backing to a merger between his small organisation with the national Fianna Fail party.
Neil Blaney, Niall’s late uncle, resigned from Fianna Fail in 1970 after being sacked from the cabinet in a scandal over the arming of northern nationalists.
The current Donegal Northeast TD said: “Today is a milestone that was attempted to be reached on many occasions over the last 25 years.”
Mr Blaney said his wider family had given him “100 per cent backing” in his decision.
“I very much understand that more than three decades of electoral rivalry can create barriersm,” he said. “I want to assure the members of Fianna Fail that we are absolutely committed to working constructively with them in a spirit of openness and shared goals.”
Mr Blaney insisted that the IFF was now “defunct”.
Fianna Fail leader and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern welcomed the return of the Blaney organisation to the fold.
“It is regrettable that it has taken so long to heal old wounds and to reunite the party in a spirit of reconciliation similar to the peace process on this island.
“I am glad that the hand of friendship is being extended by both sides and that we can close this long division in our shared history,” he said.
However, the announcement by retired Fianna Fail TD Jim McDaid that he will bid to run for the Dail again in the next general election has upset the party’s plans.
The former cabinet minister made his shock decision less than 24 hours after Independent Fianna Fail’s Niall Blaney ended a 35-year rift to join the senior government partner.
McDaid claimed the merger with Blaney’s Independent Fianna Fail was made against the wishes of the local party, and left the county capital, Letterkenny, without representation in Dublin.
“I just think that this has been handled in an absolutely scurrilous manner, they’ve actually raised the hackles completely of the organisation here in Donegal northeast,” Dr McDaid said.
“They now have got their backs up and there’s an awful lot of anger and they just want to get out there and support a candidate of their own and basically, at the minute, that’s what I’m giving them, the opportunity to say that after they’ve been so loyal to me.”
Three sitting Fianna Fail TDs are now seeking re-election in the three-seat constituency of Donegal North-East, but it seems likely that no more than two can be successful. A decision on which candidates Fianna Fail will put forward for the general election expected next year will be made in the autumn.
One beneficiary of the upheaval could be Sinn Féin councillor Padraig Mac Lochlainn. He said Mr Blaney’s move was no surprise and said IFF supporters should now look to his party for political leadership.
“His decision to leave Independent Fianna Fail and join Fianna Fail will come as a surprise to very few people as he has been a constant supporter of the government since he was elected to the Dail in 2002 sometimes more so than those on the Fianna Fail back benches. He was very much part of the Fianna Fail establishment.
“Independent Fianna Fail has been a powerful presence in Donegal for many decades and were a strong voice in support of the nationalist people in the Six Counties, particularly in difficult times. They have also been a constant voice in support of Irish unity.
“I would like to make a personal appeal to those who have long been supporters of IFF - republicans who have a real desire for a united Ireland. I would ask you to now give your support to Sinn Féin and help us make Irish unity a reality.”
SF POISED FOR COALITION
Support for the current coalition government remains low, while the challenge of the opposition continues to grow, according to the latest poll of opinion in the 26 Counties.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have each gained one point since last month’s poll, but support for the junior coalition partners, the Progressive Democrats has dropped to a potentially catastrophic 2 per cent in the wake of internal divisions over the future leadership of the party. The prospects for re-election of the present coalition are now more remote than at any time since the current series of tracking polls began at the start of this year.
Combined support for Fine Gael and Labour is two points ahead of Fianna Fail and the PDs.
Sinn Féin support in the 26 Counties has increased by one point to ten percent, according to the poll.
Asked about the chances of Sinn Féin being part of a Dublin coalition government next year, Mr Adams said it would only be on two conditions.
“Number one that we get sufficient mandate and we are looking for sufficient mandate,” he said.
“The second condition is the terms. We are not interested in being government for the sake of it.”
Despite some opposition to such a move within Sinn Féin, Mr Adams said his party could be interested in a government agenda for change based on social and economic issues.
“We would not be part of a coalition except one which was very, very focused on health as a right from the cradle to the grave,” he said.
Mr Adams said he was rarely critical of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the issue of the peace process. But he added that in recent times Mr Ahern had not been “sure-footed” and had allowed the process to “falter”.
He pointed out Mr Ahern had reneged on commitments about northern representation in southern institutions, such as MPs being allowed once or twice a year to speak in the Dail.
FF MOVE NORTH
Meanwhile, Fianna Fail has taken the first step on the road to contesting elections north of the border by announcing it is to begin recruiting members in the northern colleges from this autumn.
The party plans to have recruitment drives in place in campuses throughout the North before Christmas time. Sanctioned by party headquarters, the drive will be spearheaded by Fianna Fail’s youth section Ogra whose goal is to establish thriving societies in the various colleges.
Anthony Kelly of Ogra Fianna Fail said: “We are very much in favour of expanding Fianna Fail into the North. We are a real republican party, which can offer all the people of Northern Ireland a real political alternative.”