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Rebooting Fianna Fáil… March 1, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economy, Irish Politics, The Left.

IELB has dealt with the first anniversary of Fianna Fáil’s decapitation earlier in the week, so I’m taking a very slightly different line.

First up I wrote most of the below before the news broke of the resignation of Ó Cuív as FF deputy leader and spokesperson on communications, energy and natural resources due to differences with the party line on the fiscal treaty. That has to be problematic, or as IELB said ‘Just what Fianna Fail needed a few days before their Ard Fheis weekend ‘. It is indeed. Where this might lead to is particularly interesting. Will Ó Cuív remain with a party that he is so clearly at odds with on one of the defining issues of the day – some might say the only issue of the day? If so, how does he square that with his own position? If not where does he go?

Pat Leahy too was exercised by the Ard Fheis. He suggests that Micheál Martin and the FF leadership, now much reduced like their representation, are thinking of offering an apologia, if not an outright apology, to the Irish people. Yes, one can see how tricky that might be. After all Martin was part of the Cabinet through the years any apology might cover.

Leahy argues that:

The party has seen a stabilisation in its support in the past year, and ranks ahead – though only just – of Sinn Fйin and the Labour Party in opinion polls. But it is still the object of considerable anger from many voters who blame Fianna Fбil-led governments for the economic crash, the EU/IMF bailout and the austerity policies that have followed.

What’s most notable is that the FF figures in RedC [others like the Sunday Times / Behaviour and Attitudes poll this last weekend seem to show very poor polling results] stabilised at the last election at 17.4%. They’ve varied relatively little and now are still stubbornly stuck at that point. Now, so have the Independent votes, although a clear relationship with the FF vote is difficult to discern. But consider how as the FG and LP votes, particularly the latter, have dipped significantly since that election, and as SF’s has risen considerably, there’s been no bonus whatsoever for Fianna Fáil.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have found the FF core vote, or at least the current core vote, and it’s in or around 17/18 per cent.

And this has outcomes. They’re seemingly becalmed. Unable to profit from the woes of the Government, but apparently not dipping any lower. And all the while the newish kid on the block is making hay. Which makes Leahy’s next point well worth considering.

The political reality is that Fianna Fáil is now in a scrap with Sinn Fйin for the leadership of the opposition.

That seems true, and with only four or five TDs in the difference between them, and with an SF with a vastly more coherent and cohesive message, it is to my eyes a situation where SF is running away with that leadership. FF by contrast appear in the Dáil and outside it, hesitant, unable to fix upon a clear cut ideological position whether that is centre left or centre right, and still clearly demoralised by its losses last year.

However Leahy continues:

But despite the fears of many in the party, the threat that Sinn Fйin poses to Fianna Fбil is exaggerated – the evidence suggests that the two parties draw their support from different parts of the electorate.
In the last election, Fianna Fбil lost 25 per cent of the electorate; Sinn Fйin picked up 3 per cent. Fianna Fбil’s real targets are Fine Gael, Labour and the independents.

I agree with his logic in the first part. FF’s losses did not translate immediately to SF. 3 per cent was lower than they should have got and obviously had less impact.

But…and this is crucial, that was then and this is now.

FF didn’t just lose support, but it lost seats (and this on top of its losses at the last local elections). And it lost seats in Dublin while people like Mary Lou McDonald and Dessie Ellis gained seats. Now those weren’t necessarily the same seats – SFs gains in Dublin were more limited than might have been expected given they had to compete with both the LP and left Independents and the ULA, but as FF weakened it allowed, as in Dublin Central, both SF and FG candidates to slip forward. And now they’re in situ and – in the case of SF in particular – they’re able to operate whereas FF has none, not one TD in the city.

One doesn’t have to buy into a crass and un-useful BAC-centric narrative to see that this spells real trouble for that party. Take for example the Dublin West by-election. Much more was made of the FF result there than should have been. But talking with someone who was on the ground for another party there during that contest it was clear that there were three groups making herculean efforts to win the seat, Labour who both won and lost it – in one sense, the ULA, or more specifically the SP, who did remarkably well in the circumstances and FF. The latter worked enormously hard with significant support expended upon a presentable candidate, David McGuinness, with few overt links to the ancient regime. And yet, for all that, and in a constituency where one might have expected at least some residual support to follow on from Brian Lenihan’s untimely end they only managed to get 21.7 per cent, hardly at all ahead of the SP vote and almost 3 points behind the LP.

What I’m getting at, in an admittedly circuitous way, is that SF presents a much greater threat now to FF, a year after the election than it did then, and for all that FF may be keen to pry away votes from LP, FG and Independents, as the year has gone on the SF vote has (in Red C polls) risen to 17 per cent at the expense of Government parties. Or to put it slightly differently, however much FF may wish to capitalise on FG/LP woes there’s already another party beginning to make those inroads.

Now there are problems for SF in all this. Their attraction to FG voters is presumably low enough. And that’s not going to change. But then it doesn’t have to. If they can eventually begin to eat into that core FF vote and pull in gains from the LP and wherever they don’t need FG votes (though I’m very taken with IELB’s thoughts about the potential for an electoral showdown between FG and SF. That won’t be for a while yet).

So for Martin the task doesn’t seem easier than twelve months ago, but in some ways more difficult than then. And Leahy is spot on when he notes:

It is by no means certain that a recovery to even medium-sized party status for Fianna Fбil is possible. Even if that is to happen, it will be a long and uncertain road. But next weekend will mark some important steps on that road.

Current polling suggests that FF could, even on current numbers see its figures boosted up to 25 odd TDs. And that’s it. Lower, significantly lower, than FG during its time in the Dáil, even in the dark days of 2002.

A recovery? Not even close. Particularly if the dissent that Ó Cuív represents widens, or if he does something particularly spectacular from here on out.

And say Martin does brilliantly well this weekend? Say he manages to put the Ó Cuív issue to one side, to present an explanation that resonates with a reasonable fraction of their erstwhile voters. Look at those figures for Dublin, consider just what has to be won back before there’s any growth. Medium sized party? The best that could be expected. And for some time to come yet.


1. CL - March 1, 2012

O Cuiv has visited Gerry McGeough in jail and is heading up an international effort for his release. McGeough led Sinn Fein’s successful effort against the first Nice referendum. A decision on McGeough’s request for release is due tomorrow. Perhaps we will see a right-wing populist campaign led by O Cuiv and McGeough against this new fiscal compact treaty.


WorldbyStorm - March 1, 2012

That would be an… interesting… alliance.


Danny - March 1, 2012

Well fair play to O’Cuiv for standing by McGeough. He may have views that are not the norm in SF but he was still a Vol. and fought for the Republic. At the very least he shouldn;t be banged up for an action in that conflict when all others are being released.


CL - March 2, 2012

Its certainly difficult to believe he would be in jail if he had remained on Sinn Fein’s Ard Comhairle.


shea - March 3, 2012

Danny +1


WorldbyStorm - March 3, 2012

Fair point Danny re imprisonment. McGeough’s views are a different planet to mine, but it’s difficult to feel comfortable re his conviction.


2. que - March 1, 2012

o’Cuiv visiting McGeough is polishing the credentials.
Same as that rumour he might be joining SF – great way for Dev og to highlight himself as bearer of republican tradition – hanging with McGeough and also being republican enough for rumours of joining SF.

About rebuilding – John McGuinness is running for their VP and he could do some good for them but would he and martin work – I wonder about that. Course with Mary C and John bull crawling out from their rocks there is a lot to drag them back down.


EWI - March 2, 2012

John McGuinness is running for their VP and he could do some good for them

You joke, surely. McMotormouth is only going to ‘do some good’ if they’e going to embark on an unashamedly right-wing free-marketeer direction – something I don’t see happening, now or in the near future.

If Ó Cuiv was going to be launching a new party then he would have been at a press conference in a Dublin city centre hotel flanked by his supporters, not part of a panel on the VB show.


que - March 2, 2012

yeah reckon he could do them some benefit cause of his anti-Biffo credentials. He is one of the few who a rebel (for the wrong reasons and late but those things are often lost).

If they are going to oppose he wouldnt be bad. Being a right winger – well FF is all those things, and of course whats good for them wouldnt be good for irish


que - March 2, 2012

forgot to say dont think he is going for a new party – but would be looking to boot Martin and settle in himself.


WorldbyStorm - March 3, 2012

I think that’s it que, what you’re saying in your last comment there.


3. irishelectionliterature - March 2, 2012

Had a look at the Clar for their Ard Fheis and quite a few of the motions are against cuts (some which they made in government, some made since).
My own favourite ….

10) That the national anthem be sung in all primary and secondary schools first thing on a Monday morning and last thing on a Friday evening, that every student in the country be given a free copy of the Constitution as part of the CSPE program and that a copy of the Proclamation be hung in every classroom in the State.
Kilkenny Ógra CDC

and as one wag has pointed out to me…
“And what of course is the opening line of the National Anthem?” 🙂


Paddy M - March 2, 2012

At my school back in the mid 70s it was:

“Sinne laochra Fáil”

though that was during the middle of the National Coalition period.


4. Ghandi - March 2, 2012

Anybody notice the closeness of Gerry Beades and O Cuiv yesterday interesting to say the least.


5. Danny - March 2, 2012

This surely has to be as part of a leadership challenge by o’Cuiv and I presume that he sees himself as the only viable candidate.

You don’t pull a stunt like this the week before an ard fheis unless you have a very serious agenda in place.

Does anyone, Eamon inc. have an idea what that may be.


irishelectionliterature - March 2, 2012

As far as I know there is a confidence motion on the leadership down on the Clar for the Ard Fheis.


Julian Assandwich - March 2, 2012

When he first made the news yesterday, he was speaking from the Anti-Septic Tank march, climbing down off a trailer.

He is clearly using the campaign to boost his career/ego and if his side have legs at the Ard Fheis, maybe take over FF and rebuild as a farmers party.


WorldbyStorm - March 2, 2012

Yeah, that makes sense that he’s going for something else why now, why this week?


6. Dr. X - March 2, 2012

Rebuild as a farmers’ party? Well, OK; but which farmers are we talking about? As I understand FF is already heading towards being a western regional party – so the farmers they represent may be a bit on the small side. . .


que - March 2, 2012

rebuild as a Farmers party?
echoing Dr. X – hardly a strategy for 2011. If dev is going for the farmers maybe the left can build support for the Farm labourers.

I feel like this is a conversation in the 30s.


Julian Assandwich - March 23, 2012

Didn’t y’all hear? Agriculture is back! Global food shortages/rocketing prices.

It took a bit of a hammering during the Celtic Tiger, but it will soon be pretty prominent economically/culturally once again.

Small farms, but lots of them. Agriculture also has deep social roots in the west.

Hopefully the Mahon tribunal will put FF down into single digits in the polls though


7. EamonnCork - March 2, 2012

I don’t think there are enough farmers out there anymore to support anything much bigger than Clann na Talmhan. Though I could see O Cuiv ending up as a Joe Blowick type leader of a regionally based party. In a way I’d actually like to see him as FF leader as it would finish them off for good.


LeftAtTheCross - March 2, 2012

“In a way I’d actually like to see him as FF leader as it would finish them off for good.”



EamonnCork - March 2, 2012

I’d like to see Fianna Fail get a rebooting at the next election to follow the booting they got at the last one.


8. Garibaldy - March 2, 2012

This cracked me up

“Is it not ironic the way history repeats itself?” said Fine Gael Senator Tom Sheahan, pausing for effect before adding: “Deputy Micheál Martin is not the first Corkman to be shot in the back by a de Valera.”



que - March 2, 2012

unreal eh. Every bit the yahoo as that type who supported the Fianna Failers


9. Garibaldy - March 4, 2012

It seems someone in FF has been taking propaganda lessons from a certain former communications minister of Iraq.



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