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Fianna Fáil futures… September 19, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
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Stephen Collins this week had some harsh words for FF about its prospective longevity, and give him his due, some interesting thoughts about that party. He focusses on the apparent chaos within FF over the Presidential Election following the decision not to contest it and the clear lack of discipline in that organization given the solo run by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú as well as a threat to resign by Eamon O Cuiv, who some of us may well have forgotten [I know I did] is FF deputy leader.

Intriguingly Collins sympathies are with that beleaguered and much diminished band, the TDs.

“The party has been hijacked by a bunch of elderly Senators who got elected by spending their time in safe Fianna Fáil houses, while we faced the wrath of the electorate. They haven’t a clue about what is happening in the real world,” said one TD.

And it’s not an entirely unfair analysis. Indeed Collins makes an excellent point when he notes:

In hindsight, Fianna Fбil’s surprisingly good performance in the Seanad election contained the seeds of future conflict.
The party won 14 Seanad seats which gave a considerable boost to the depleted parliamentary party, which had been slashed in numbers when just 20 TDs were elected in February.
However, a number of experienced Senators, who were elected in spite of a list of favoured younger candidates put forward by the leadership, were bristling with indignation and were only waiting for a chance to get their own back. They certainly availed of that chance on Thursday.
Many of these Senators have never contested a general election and have no intention of doing so, but they are a powerful component of the parliamentary party.

For Martin this must be a nightmare of dismal proportions. His Seanad representation is only somewhat smaller than his Dáil representation [and the loss of Lenihan, and most likely his seat hasn’t improved the math]. Both are, to judge from their disposition in the Chambers, a disheartened and demoralized set of crews. And both are working against each other rather than with each other.

Whether Martin’s ‘list’ would have delivered a punchier alternative is open to question. The young guns who did make it into the Seanad aren’t exactly setting it alight. And Collins seems to have an undue regard for the ‘younger’ Dáil TDs. Indeed he paints an even more catastrophic picture:

This poses a serious quandary for the younger TDs and new Senators, who represent any future the party might have.
If they are outvoted and outmanoeuvred by their older colleagues, they could quickly despair of having a political future in Fianna Fбil.

But where would they go? Where would they go?

Well check this out…

There is an even more depressing alternative that could see Fianna Fáil taken over by some dedicated group seeking to colonise the skeleton of the party for its own purposes.

And he posits:
T

he international experience of old decaying parties is worth looking at in this context.
For instance, charismatic populist the late Jorg Haider managed to take over the declining, but respectable, liberal Freedom Party in Austria, and turn it into a vibrant but controversial right-wing force.
The same fate has befallen declining political parties in other European countries.

The Freedom party, respectable, liberal? Really? Reading this one might have a very different sense of matters.

The ‘Early Years’ section is particularly useful, consider the following:

The first FPÖ party leader was Anton Reinthaller, a former Nazi Minister of Agriculture and SS officer.[14] He had been asked by ÖVP Chancellor Julius Raab to take over the movement rather than let it be led by a more socialist-leaning group.[15] While the majority of former Nazis had probably joined the two main parties in absolute numbers, they formed a greater percentage of FPÖ members due to the party’s small size.[15] Nevertheless, none of them were real revolutionaries and they pursued pragmatic, non-ideological policies.[15] The FPÖ served as a vehicle for them to integrate in the Second Republic; the party was a welcome partner with both the SPÖ and ÖVP in regional and local politics, although it was excluded at the national level.[15][16] The ÖVP and the FPÖ ran a joint candidate for the 1957 presidential election, who lost.[15]

Feel the liberalism. Wallow in the respectability. And note that the larger parties ‘excluded it at national level’.

Then for a six year period, between 1980 and 1986, the FPÖ under the leadership of Norbert Steger did indeed tilt towards centrism. But that’s okay because as early as 1983 a certain Jorg Haider who wasn’t a johnny come lately but had been a member since his youth in the 1960s became leader of the Carinthia branch and from there moved towards the leadership which he took over in 1989.

So rather than the FPO being similar to a wounded Fianna Fáil it’s an entirely different creature. Though one’s got to love the ‘vibrant but controversial’…

And how about this?

If Fianna Fáil cannot discover its own reasons for renewal it could end up with the equally unpalatable alternatives of dying or becoming the vehicle for forces that have little regard for its history or traditions.

I think he’s got this somewhat the wrong way about and not just in the somewhat bizarre comparison with the FPÖ. This is close to the end point of a process that started when FF first went into coalition with the Progressive Democrats [by the way I’m not comparing the PDs here to the FPÖ in terms of ideology], a process which was cheerled by many, including Collins. That was where it became a vehicle for forces that ‘had little regard for its history or traditions’, or perhaps knew of those traditions a little too well. That’s where its innate pragmatism faded away and where it’s Janus like ability to address directly competing constituencies of its party support base atrophied to the point of non-existence.

The result? Fianna Fáil has become in terms of national representation hardly much better than the highest point the PDs achieved back in the day. And in its inchoate, but still right of centre rhetorical and political position it continues, as it most notably did during the crisis, the policies of its former partner. Indeed if it keeps going at this rate it will soon have the more average numbers the PDs had back in the day.

Perhaps that which Stephen Collins and others sought has come to pass and he didn’t even notice.

Behold, Fianna Fáil – the new PDs! And going the same way too…

Comments»

1. Tomboktu - September 19, 2011

I haven’t read all of Collins’s article, but the phrase “The party won 14 Seanad seats” misses a key aspect. They didn’t win them out of thin air: they won them, for the most part, with votes of Fianna Fáil members: councillors and outgoing senators (and the 19 TDs).

My own thought is that a long-suppressed truth about FF has now emerged. Many of the prominent figures used the oul guff about FF not being a political party but a national movement, or a representation of Irish society. But look the party’s make up.

For long it has had a leadership cohort who made key decisions in their brief — the likes of McCreevy, Dempsey, B. Lenihan (or who skilfully fudged and deferred them in the case of Cowen) — and junior ministers who read the civil servant’s speech on why the amendment to the Bill could not be accepted and otherwise were busy being important — C. Lenihan, N. Ahern, S. Haughey, Callely. And below that, in the hierarchy, councillors and cumman officers, people who mattered in genuine ways in in their localities, who could have a word if you asked, no promises mind, but a word.

In that body of cummain officers and councillors was a sizeable socially conservative cohort, solid, old-fashioned Roman Catholics not given to the vitriol of the likes of Alive! or the intellectual ostentation of a Hayek-citing David Quinn: for them, homosexuality, abortion, divorce, contraception are wrong, plain and simple because it was obvious they are wrong. The voice of that cohort got suppressed by the leadership keen to, well, lead, conscious more of the changing dominant consensus on many of those issues. Even an instinctive conservative like Maray Hanafin swallowed her conscience and voted in favour of civil partnership, because that was the price for a seat at the top table.

The councillors — selected for the seats by the cumainn officers — could not be stopped from electing the likes of Jim Walsh or Labhras Ó Murchú, and some like minded might make it through to the Dáil when they were selected as a sweeper or had a solid base in one end of the constituency, but those Oireachtas members would never get promoted far unless they “did a Hanafin”.

And the rout of FF in the last general election left that long-ignored cohort with a degree of control in the party that have not had for a long time — at least until the next local elections.

Of course, that it not the whole story. The polls say that the FF support plummeted when the decision to bail out the banks was taken. But there was a mini-rout before that. In the last local elections, FF bombed in Dublin, where the influence of the local fixer who was cathaoirleach of the local cumann had long wained, and where the corruption had been exposed over a long decade in more than one Tribunal. That story of corruption is a second dimension, but for my point, the significant part of it was that FF people outside Dublin who had not been, say, a Minister for the Environment and EU Commissioner weren’t seen in their communities as rotten to the core in the way the Dublin organisation was. (Certainly, some non-Dublin local politicians were tainted, but the non-Dublin party wasn’t seen as rotten.)

The questions that remain are
– whether the next local elections will continue the wipe-out of FF;
– whether the social conservatives can continue to co-exist in a party with the lkes of Martin, or whether there will be a split.
I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I don’t need to: que sera, sera, and we will just have to wait and see. But one thing is sure: the guff about a national movement is exposed. Suddenly, in the reduced family, the conservatives aren’t a couple of awkward uncles shoved into a far corner at the wedding, they take up a few of the tables and can’t be ignired if you’re a family member, even if you are off up in Dublin during the week.

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irishelectionliterature - September 19, 2011

Totally agree with that.
One aspect missed by Collins and others is that for the first time ever there is no prospect of Fianna Fail being in power for at least one more Dail term, if not eternity.
So if there are no contracts to be awarded, no jobs on various quangos, no positions on semi state boards, never mind Ministerial jobs available why tow the line?

Its every man/woman for themselves

If you read below you’ll see how they themselves strayed from all of their traditional values.

FIANNA FÁIL AIMS:

To secure in peace and agreement the unity of Ireland and its people

To develop a distinctive national life in accordance with the diverse traditions and ideals of the Irish people as part of a broader European culture, and to restore and promote the Irish language as a living language of the people

To guarantee religious and civil liberty, and equal rights, equal treatment and equal opportunities for all the people of Ireland

To develop the resources and wealth of Ireland to their full potential, while making them subservient to the needs and welfare of all the people of Ireland, so as to provide the maximum sustainable employment, based on fostering a spirit of enterprise and self-reliance and on social partnership

To protect the natural environment and heritage of Ireland and to ensure a balance between town and country and between the regions, and to maintain as many families as practicable on the land

To promote the family, and a wider sense of social responsibility, and to uphold the rule of law in the interests of the welfare and safety of the public

To maintain the status of Ireland as a sovereign state, as a full member of the European Union and the United Nations, contributing to peace, disarmament and development on the basis of Ireland’s independent foreign policy tradition

To reform the laws and institutions of State, to make them efficient, humane, caring and responsive to the needs of the citizens

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que - September 20, 2011

yeah agree thats a good analysis and i’d also agree with it.
Big difficulty for them if one of their most coherent groups is the one with the least time left politically.

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2. Brian Stafford - September 20, 2011

My original theory on FF was that they are now poison to most people and the only way back for them would be the establishment pumping money into them as an assurance of a second establishment party of power. The rot is too much and they are going to be allowed die.

The real question is where does the money go. I think the Labour party are doing sterling work licking up to potential donors but I would not rule out SF mopping some of it up as they move further right. Of course the intriguing one is the launch of PD Nua a Shane Ross, Stephen Donnelly and maybe a couple of disaffected FGers, Matthews being the most obvious, probaly linked into the remnants of Libertas and PD sympathisers.

I personally think we will see Ross launch a party if for no other reason than the ego stroke. He is not the star attraction of the opposition or even the technical group and my reading of him is that he would love to be. If Ross ever does launch a party get ready for plenty of brilliant SINDO stupid statements of the week. But on the plus side FF will be dead. You take the wins where you can get them I suppose.

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3. WorldbyStorm - September 20, 2011

+1 on that Tomboktu, I think that’s a brilliantly persuasive analysis as to the nature of the Seanad party – and isn’t it interesting how there’s this divergence between it and the Dáil variant – it couldn’t really get elected easily through the direct vote but the party loves it, at some level.

Brian, I think you’re right re Ross.

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4. Making Waves in the Desert - September 20, 2011

I think the fear of others taking over the shell of FF in order to use the Party for their own purposes is misplaced. I’m not sure even the shell of FF could give a leg up (certainly in the eyes of the public) to anyone. However, a few years of FG/Lab may change that.

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irishelectionliterature - September 20, 2011

“others taking over the shell of FF in order to use the Party for their own purposes”
To an extent isn’t that what happened already. Once TACA was established the needs of the ordinary people were superceded to corporate interests… eventually leading to the needs of the developers and then the banks being of primary interest to Fianna Fail.

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5. que - September 20, 2011

@makin waves

I wonder was that reference about being taken over code for watch out Sinn Fein will replace you?

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Making Waves in the Desert - September 20, 2011

To be honest I get the impression he was referring to other people/political groups taking over the structures of the party and using the Party as a vehicle to promote their own agenda. In such a scenario I don’t think he’d be referring to SF, rather I think he’d be thinking about groups on the right that would manipulate the history of FF’s nationalism (in the wider sense). So, I’d assume he’d be thinking of various right-wing groupings.

That said, I can’t see that happening. Firstly, FF is too toxic at present for anyone to see it as a viable vehicle, and secondly, in large parts of the country it is too built up around cliques and families to facilitate it’s taking over from outside. Perhaps more likely would be parts of it being taken over, precipating slips or fracturing. Again, though that could just be wishful thinking on my part lol.

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6. Tomboktu - September 20, 2011

it couldn’t really get elected easily through the direct vote

Well, the number of seats on a Seanad panel is much larger than the number of seats in a Dáil constitunecy, so the percentage threshold for getting through is lower (but does depend on the electorate not being so atypical as to make it impossilble).

The physicist Richard Feynman suggested that interaction diagrams showing a particle and an anti-particle moving coming together to annihilate each other and form a photon, and then the photon disintegrating to form a particle–antiparticle pair could be thought of as the one of the particle or antiparticle moving back in time while the particle moved forward in time.

Yeah, I’ve no idea what that means, but while I was daydreaming on the bus on the way home from work this evening, I wondered if Fianna Fáil is a sort of anti-Labour Party moving backward in some kind of counterfactual Feyman-physics time. Yeah, that’s another thing that I don’t know the meaning of either, but I was daydreaming and it had been a long one at work.

Back in the day when Labour had Dáil representation at the level that FF now has, Labour had a Militant Tendency which the leadership decided was too much trouble and expelled. The counterfactual would be: what if the leaders hadn’t done that. Would the first Oireachtas presence of the Militant Tendency have been through the Seanad panels — not enough support in a 3-, 4- or 5-seat constituency to make the quota but enough to make it in a 5-, 7-, 9- or 11-seat panel? That’s how Fianna Fáil’s Conservative Tendency maintained an Oireachtas presence.

And, moving back in time could the Conservative Tendency move from a bearable irritant when they were, oh, five or seven percent of the Oireachtas party, but too much trouble when they constitute about twenty-five percent of a much reduced Oireachtas party, a la Militant in Labour of yesteryear?

That was my dreaming on the bus on the way home: Labour, Fianna Fáil, and quantum physics that I don’t understand. If you find my life, please return it to me.

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7. Hugh Murphy - September 23, 2011

Besides Fianna Fail a lot more are conning the Irish People, eg Noelilne Blackwell who claims that “access to justice is as important as costs”. Where is my ACCESS TO JUSTICE…?

PILA and FLAC and the so-called enlightened lawyers in Ireland are taking everyone for a ride. They cover up the corruption of SIPTU, which was once a great Trade Union until it shamefully changed its name from ITGWU.
My point: No solicitor in Dublin [FLAC OR OTHERWISE] or Human Rights body will give me a solicitor to sue Jack O’Connor, president of SIPTU .
The Belfast Union officials were corrupted by the employers and persecuted, sacked and drove to their deaths Belfast Dockers by ordering them to discharge Asbestos without protection to save the employers money. See video on http://www.justicefordockers.com

At a Transparency International conference held to publicise their whistle blowers initiative, I questioned the chairman, Fintan O’Toole, I outlined that I was a whistle blower on a trade union whose officials had been corrupted and were in the pay of employers – and who had sacked me because I wouldn’t discharge Asbestos without protection. I then asked O’Toole on why neither he nor Irish Times will report on the Dying Belfast Dockers.
After a period of silence he muttered, he something about the Defamation Laws. Many whistle blowers weren’t happy with his answers and told him so but he refused to discuss it further. John Davitt asked many times for people to moderate their language as the event was being recorded and would be posted on their website, however my questioning of O’Toole was cut from the recording. SOME TRANSPARENCY.

Two days later at a conference on changes to the Defamation Laws, and attended by the creame de la creame of Dublin legal minds which had High Court Judge Peter Kelly hosting the Q&A session, I was the first speaker. You could have heard a pin drop when I said: “I tried to get myself sued for defamation by telling the truth”.
I told in detail of the corruption at Belfast Docks and of my accusing Jack O’Connor many time of being corrupt and of covering up corruption – and of his promise to “sue the arse of me”, but, much to my disappointment that he’d had a change of mind when his Belfast solicitor John O’Neill of Thompson McClures, informed him that what I said about his Union was indeed true.
To be fair Judge Peter Kelly gave me a lot of leeway, then he interupted asking, “Do you have a question for the panel”? I replied I did, and it was for Geraldine Kennedy, who was then editor of Irish Times.
I asked her the same question I’d asked Fintan O’Toole two days previously – “why will you nor Irish Times report on the Dying Belfast Dockers”. She was dumbfounded and silence descended on the hall. Foolishly, instead of letting her stew I gave her an out by telling what had happened with Fintan O’Toole. She replied: “I haven’t seen or spoken to Fintan and cannot comment until I have, but, we must always remain within the law.

Why no-one from the pantheon of highly educated Human Rights Greats in Dublin will tell me, why Human Rights are denied to the ex Belfast Dockers is something I cannot understand?
Monica McWilliams said NIHRC would not investigate Belfast Dockers dying from Asbestosis, because – INCREDULOUSLY the Trade Union which ordered them to discharge this deadly material without protection – was and still is based in Dublin.
AND to add insult to injury, the IHRC will not investigate because – LUDICROUSLY, Maurice Manning said: that the matters complained happened in NI which is outside their jurisdiction. – Anyone with half an eye can see that another agenda is at work here.

No doubt this post will be censored by Cedar Lounge – but hopefully someday they will be asked in a court of law, WHY?

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