By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
Can Fianna Fail ever come back as a major party in the Republic? Is it doomed to languish aimlessly like the SDLP searching for a role until it is extinguished as a political force in 2015? The events of the past week suggest the party is over.
In case you don’t know, last Thursday at the first meeting of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party after the summer recess 72-year-old Senator Labhras o Murchu defied the party leader by attempting to get support for a crack at the Aras, yesterday abandoned.
Micheal Martin took seven hours of debate, adjournments, time-outs and waffle to try to recover control of his mutinous party. During these proceedings his deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv threatened to resign if Martin proposed a resolution that Fianna Fail would neither contest the presidential election nor endorse a candidate. In other words party discipline has collapsed.
They met yesterday to try to paper over the cracks but Micheal Martin is a hapless ditherer, lacking in authority and incapable of providing the required leadership.
Bad as all this is it might not have mattered so much if Sinn Fein hadn’t nominated Martin McGuinness.
Until the weekend Fianna Fail faced two deeply uninspiring presidential candidates, third-rate veterans from Fine Gael and Labour, offering a choice between the coalition parties.
Who cares which of them wins? Neither has an agenda for the presidency. The race would have been back to the old days pre-Robinson and McAleese.
Not now. Sinn Fein has snatched the role of opposition to the coalition from Fianna Fail. Even in the unlikely event that a credible Fianna Fail candidate were to emerge or if Martin, who seems prone to idiotic throwaway statements, lends Fianna Fail support as he suggested to an already nominated candidate after September 27, Sinn Fein will still be the opposition. How can Fianna Fail oppose either of the government candidates when the government is implementing Fianna Fail’s austerity policy which the late Brian Lenihan agreed with the EU and IMF?
McGuinness will scoop up many disaffected Fianna Fail voters as well as those who have no-one else to vote for and those who would never vote Fine Gael or Labour. He has also been endorsed by four independents and is likely to gain the votes of many who voted for the other independents elected in February’s election.
His anti-EU/IMF stance will go down well and his attacks on bailing out the banks will receive a good hearing.
However, this election isn’t just about the Aras or even about winning. That would be an unlooked-for bonus.
Sinn Fein’s aim is to take the mantle of opposition from Fianna Fail by campaigning on issues that affect people in the Republic as it did in the general election, to establish the party as a credible, relevant force to be reckoned with in the Republic.
February’s election campaign revealed that Fianna Fail has no organisation, that its famed cumann system had atrophied because it had been replaced by cliques around the party’s big beasts exemplified by the St Luke’s operation Bertie Ahern ran parallel to the party ‘organisation’ in North Dublin. Cumainn have either withered and died or exist only on paper. If by some miracle Fianna Fail doubled its vote at the next general election it would still be thes second-worst result in the party’s history. That’s how far down the party has slipped.
The icing on the cake is that the past week has demonstrated that Fianna Fail’s leader carries no authority inside or outside the party and that instead the Soldiers of Destiny have succumbed to the petty personal squabbles and divisions that usually bedevil a party after a major electoral defeat.
So Sinn Fein has not only benefited from the timing of the presidential eJection but also that inestimable quality - luck. Can Fianna Fail ever come back? Yes, but it will be a new Fianna Fail and it will be called Sinn Fein.
It will be a reversal of the events of 1926 when Dev’s Fianna Fail took over the remnants of Sinn Fein. You notice the first announcement Martin McGuinness made was to express his support for the Irish army and An Garda Siochana.