Irish Republican News · December 3, 2009
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Assembly member joins Fianna Fail

Assembly member Gerry McHugh who quit Sinn Fein two years ago has joined Fianna Fail, prompting speculation of a potential shift in nationalist and republican politics in the Six Counties.

Although the Fermanagh man has gone public about his membership of Fianna Fail, both he and the 26-County party have stressed that he is not representing Fianna Fail at Stormont -- at least not yet.

That has not prevented headlines claiming Fianna Fail has now effectively entered northern politics. Earlier this year, it was announced that the Ulster Unionist Party had formed an alliance with the British Conservative Party. Fianna Fail’s intention to march north has been signalled for several years.

Last week, Fianna Fail launched their Fermanagh/South Tyrone ‘forum’ in Enniskillen. The meeting was addressed by former GAA president Peter Quinn, fuelling speculation he may have also joined the party.

Six more nationalist politicians in the North are to announce that they will join Fianna Fail within the next two months, according to reports.

The six, all councillors, are expected to make their decison public in February, according to a report this week -- two are from Sinn Fein, four from the SDLP.

In a statement, Fianna Fail denied it now had an elected representative at Stormont. However, its claim that party headquarters was unaware that Mr McHugh was an elected representative has been widely dismissed.

Mr McHugh, still officially an independent at Stormont, left Sinn Fein two years ago over the party’s position on policing and ‘dictatorial’ leadership.

He said he was a supporter of the PSNI and of the Patten Commission on policing on whose recommendation it was established.

“The PSNI are a lot more accountable and they are dealing with people and the situation in a much better way than in the past. There certainly is a sea change from what the RUC was,” he said.

Regarding Fianna Fail’s republicanism, Mr McHugh said: “The commitment to a united Ireland and the ability to deliver it are what counts. I don’t know if Sinn Fein has the ability to deliver in that way. I think Fianna Fail are a long-established party . . . I believe they are committed to a long-term goal of uniting the country in a way that is in agreement and in consensus with unionists. Nobody is talking about forcing a united Ireland on any people.”

He denied he had announced his membership of the party solely to boost his chances of re-election to the Assembly in 2011, viewing that task as particularly difficult as an Independent.

“The opposite could be true. I just don’t know... I feel that in terms of macro-politics I don’t have much of an input as a single entity at Stormont. It is as simple as that. I want to be part of a large structure that can deliver a greater goal. I never got into politics to be a single person doing constituency work.”


However, Mr McHugh’s former comrades in Sinn Fein were derisive of Mr McHugh and his new loyalty.

Sinn Fein’s Caral Ni Chuilin claimed Mr McHugh had “become a figure of political ridicule in Stormont and within his own constituency.

“Some months ago Gerry McHugh allocated his vote within the Stormont Assembly Commission to the SDLP block. Now, in the last few days, he announces he is joining Fianna Fail.

“When he left Sinn Fein and refused to give up his seat he stated that Sinn Fein was not republican enough. He told us all then that he would continue as an MLA and give leadership like Frank Maguire and Bobby Sands. Yet he is now telling the republican electorate of Fermanagh South Tyrone that he is comfortable within Fianna Fail.

“This is the party that endorsed NAMA, the Lisbon Treaty and is now considering cutting the budgets of Cross Border Bodies to save money.

“His hypocrisy is breathtaking and his credibility rating both here at Stormont and within his own constituency must now be at absolute zero.”

However, Mr McHugh cited Irish unity as his number one reason for joining Fianna Fail: “Irish unity has always been what I have been about and that hasn’t changed one iota,” Mr McHugh said.

“I looked at the record in terms of Fianna Fail party size and the likelihood of their expansion in the future. They have a much bigger representation than Sinn Fein across Ireland, and are expanding throughout the 32 counties.

“I know there are a massive number of people in the party who are very strongly committed republicans, and there are more and more young people coming on board with similar ideas.”

As both an Enniskillen councillor and an Assembly member, Mr McHugh insisted he was a politician in touch with his electorate.

“Listening closely to people it is clear they don’t want to stay insular, and that is a major fault with Sinn Fein,” he said.

Although elected by the people of Fermanagh as a Sinn Fein Assembly member, the party leadership didn’t listen to him.

“They had their own particular aims and objectives and they were not always headed in the direction I wanted to go.”

He condemned Sinn Fein for stifling the party’s own supporters and activists.

“They had their own agenda and that was all the hierarchy was ever interested in, the grassroots didn’t play the same part in Sinn Fein as they did when I started with them.”

He said he believed all of the political parties operating in the North have become “too caught up in things here” and were concentrating on working within an administration that is essentially part of British rule. As a result Mr McHugh maintained Sinn Fein had become ‘diluted’ by focusing all their efforts on negotiations within the Six Counties.

Local Sinn Fein councillor Phil Flanagan urged caution on those who believe that Fianna Fail are now a 32-county republican party.

“This county has long been forgotten about by governments in Belfast and London, but Dublin has been just as bad, and Fianna Fail are as guilty as any for this negligence. Where were Fianna Fail when the people of Fermanagh needed them?,” Mr Flanagan asked.

“I find it astounding that now, in the middle of an economic crisis that is crippling the 26 counties, Fianna Fail feel they have something productive to offer politics in the North of Ireland, and especially the people of Fermanagh. Let us not forget that Fianna Fail have been the majority party of a coalition government since 1997 and that their greed and dodgy dealings are to blame for the crisis in the south,” he went on.

“The current Fianna Fail Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan, has branded southern shoppers that come to places like Enniskillen to carry out their shopping as ‘unpatriotic’. Fianna Fail are clearly a partitionist party and their policy of encouraging shoppers to remain loyal to the 26 counties reinforces this,” Mr Flanagan added. “Southern trade is really the only thing moving the economy in Fermanagh.”

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© 2009 Irish Republican News