Will Gay leave Fianna Fail badly Byrned?
UPDATE: We have known since lunchtime that Gay Byrne has pulled out.
I cannot see Fianna Fail even contemplating considering an outsider now.
Will it reflect badly on Micheal Martin?
It’s hard to know, given that it’s early and the party has – to be frank about it – very little to lose.
I think Fianna Fail will have to run a candidate now. You can’t have a situation where the leader was courting an outsider and when he rejected the advances, he still jilted all the internal suitors. That would just look desperate, really desperate.
So, it’s going to be Brian Crowley, in my opinion. And in such a strange line-up, I think he’s going to do exceedingly well.
I don’t think the candidate list is complete yet, though. I think at least one more independent candidate will emerge.
And below is the earlier blog post, where the analysis of Fianna Fail’s options etc is still valid, in my opinion.
What was that loud splash I heard? Surely, it couldn’t have been Micheál Martin’s presidential strategy bellyflopping spectacularly?
Micheál Glic has sat on his hand for many months and refused the media’s daily demands to name the party’s candidate… and name him now! In one way it was classic Micheál: the political equivalent of the newspaper editor whose indecision is final.
Or was it the parable of the hare and the snail? Norris sprinted off leaving clouds of dust in his wake. Sean Gallagher and Mary Davis brought their roadshows starring sincerity and patience and love and understanding to a local authority near you. Fine Gael decided to go down the democratic route. What a mistake that was, says its detractors. And Labour picked its most electable candidate – but given his age and his lingering radical reputation, some wondered could Michael D Higgins have the necessary reach?
All the evidence is that Fianna Fail decided before the summer break to long-finger its strategy. A committee was formed to explore all the options a week before the recess but it never met. That was hardly dynamic.
It was only with the departure of Norris that a new sense of urgency was created.
What happened next seems to suggest two strands within Fianna Fail: one comprised of the Martin loyalists (ambitious and mostly younger); the other of the traditionalists and Seanad lags.
The committee that never met was bypassed. There was an informal process. I’d guess that a small number of TDs discussed it by themselves and made a direct appeal to Martin. The argument went that the field wasn’t awe-inspiring and the removal of Norris presented an opportunity. They knew Martin was ultra cautious (to the point of hostile) about a Fianna Fail candidate. They had watched Gay Byrne in action and knew what a consummate pro he was. Byrne was a perfect fit. But because he was outside the party, he would need to be enticed now. That would give ample time to ensure the process of endorsing him could happen in early September and he would be onboard in good time to mount a decent campaign.
Hence the phone call from a holiday home in West Cork to one in West Donegal last weekend.
Sadly, there was a fly in the ointment.
And that was Brian Crowley. He had stated his intention many months ago and had even written to all his parliamentary colleagues asking for their support during July (the letter may have been inspirted by whispers that some colleagues in the party were approaching others!).
And a number of his colleagues are unhappy that TDs are going out on the airwaves and in print to pledge support for Gay Byrne. They sense that all this mounts to an exercise that will place so much momentum behind Byrne that his selection will be a fait accompli.
It’s further complicated by the actions of the leader. He would give no commitment to Crowley. But by contacting Gay Byrne and making the proposition, was he not in effect nailing his colours to the mast?
So this sets up an internal conflict, ostensibly between the leader and his own troops.
I spoke to about ten TDs and Senators yesterday (out of 34) who have doubts (or even oppose) the notion of Byrne being the candidate endorsed by the party. Part of it is a Munster thing but there is also a ‘traditionalist’ outlook that opposes the party resorting to any kind of gimmick.
As Kerry senator Ned O’Sullivan said to me yesterday:
“There has to be a group position, a party position, rather than
individuals coming out,” he said.
“I am unhappy that there seems to be an impression abroad that an
outsider will have a better chance that one of our own. Are we a party
or are we not?
“We have people of our own who have indicated willingness. I am not so
sure they are being treated very fairly by all this drip-drip
presentation by others.”
Many of them openly say they support Crowley, and by my reckoning his support comprises more than a Munster or traditionalist rump.
The savvy O’Sullivan and his Seanad colleague Mary White were concerned that the drip-drip of TDs supporting Byrne might undermine the democratic process and that the parliamentary party might not be in a position to make the decision collectively. That’s why O’Sullivan wants the parliamentary party to meet as a matter of urgency to thrash all this out, before the next scheduled meeting of 12 September.
The Cork North West TD Michael Moynihan is no fan of Gay Byrne’s either and thinks the notion of him being the party’s candidate is a nonsense.
Moyniahn has an interesting and novel suggestion. He said that what the party should propose is a constitutional referendum in the autumn that would extend the term of the current president Mary McAleese by five years and ditch the presidential election altoghether.
His thinking was sound enough: “She is doing an excellent job. And extraordinary times like we’re living through demand extraordinary measures.”
Has Micheál Glic, the master of indecision, been a little bit too hasty and arbitrary on this occasion?
There are three potential booby traps as I see them.
1. Gay Byrne decides NO, making it all seem a futile exercise
2. Gay Byrne says YES, but the parliamentary party gets contrary and either gives the leader an earful for ignoring them, or rejects Gay Byrne and chooses Brian Crowley instead. The latter would do huge harm to Martin’s authority as leader.
3. Gay Byrne says YES and finds that the love of the people for him does not transfer from the world of broadcasting to the world of politics.
When I heard that Martin had approached Byrne earlier in the week, I thought it was a clever move by Micheal Glic. But there are pitfalls and plenty of them. And members of his parliamentary party feel a bit ignored and feel that Brian Crowley has been very hard done by by Micheal and his courtiers. There is a bit of diplomacy required. And there is also trouble ahead!