Fine Gael pulls a stroke to zilch FF’s Ryan
Deaglán de Bréadún
The Political Cute Hoor of the Week Award (even though it’s still only Monday) goes to Frank Flannery for his statement that Fine Gael would be willing to work with Sinn Féin to put Fianna Fáil out of office.
Enda and Frank: what are they cooking up? (Photograph by Eric Luke)
The only plausible interpretation is that he wants to put the kibosh once and for all on Eoin Ryan’s chances of re-election to the European Parliament in the Dublin Constituency.
In a newspaper interview, Mr Flannery said his party would even consider taking part in a coalition government that included Sinn Féin: “Let’s suppose that Fine Gael and Labour were short and Sinn Féin had the numbers. Could I see that, theoretically? I could see that happen.”
Of course he was “speaking now in a personal way” and there were still problems over the paramilitary issue and SF’s attitude to past violence. And then, as sure as night follows day, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny popped-up on RTE’s This Week programme that Fine Gael had a policy of not “doing business” with Sinn Féin.
Mr Flannery is Fine Gael’s National Director of Elections and the most believable explanation, by several country miles, for his sudden interest in Sinn Féin – it was the lead story in the Irish Mail on Sunday – is that it would send a signal to Gay Mitchell’s supporters in the Dublin race that it was OK to give SF’s Mary Lou McDonald their Number Two. She needs transfers – at least Ryan has a running-mate, Lord Mayor Eibhlín Byrne.
When I pressed Eoin Ryan a couple of weeks back on the issue of transfers, he said he was urging FF supporters to transfer to pro-EU parties. He is no doubt hoping that FG voters will take the same attitude and give him their second preference instead of Ms McDonald.
The problem for FG is that, whereas they will do well in terms of votes cast, they are virtually certain to lose that second seat in Ireland East/Leinster. If Avril Doyle were standing again, she would be a virtual shoo-in, whereas Senator John Paul Phelan doesn’t seem to have much chance against Labour’s Nessa Childers (Did you know she is the daughter of the former President? Oh, and by the way, she is the daughter of the former President. And while we’re at it, her father was President of Ireland. Well, I know, because a Labour canvasser said it in my presence 500 times.)
The danger for FG is that the Big Story of the election could be: “Fianna Fáil holds four seats against the odds; Fine Gael down from five to four”. That would take the shine off things for Frank and Enda et al.
You would think Brian Cowen would be in Dublin, canvassing his guts out for Ryan. In recent days he’s been in South/Munster, where Brian Crowley is the greatest certainty since Italy beat San Marino way back whenever and he’s been in North-West, where Pat the Cope is a very strong candidate. There’s still some time left. (On the other hand, he might be a liability in the current climate.)
Meanwhile, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern of Fianna Fáil says Flannery’s comments are “astounding” and “shocking”. Those with long memories will recall that, speaking to reporters at Hillsborough Castle on 12 October 2004, Mr Ahern said in reference to politics south of the Border: “It is only a matter of time that Sinn Féin will be in government in the future. But until such time as the IRA demonstrably show that they have put down arms forever and a day. . . there cannot be two armies. ”
“That is the reality. It is the same in the North as it is in the Republic. That would be the position, depending on what happens as regards the entire issue of putting down arms forever.”
He continued: “There will come a time, I envisage, where Sinn Fein will be in government in the Republic as they will be in the North. I hope that happens in the future.”
Did that mean a coalition between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin? “Well, with other parties, and conceivably with Fianna Fáil.”