Bad Breakfast Reading for Fianna Fail and Labour
Deaglán de Bréadún
First, the health warning: one swallow doesn’t make a summer and it would be wrong to over-interpret a single opinion poll. Nevertheless the figures in today’s Sunday Times Behaviour and Attitudes survey will make alarming reading for Fianna Fail and Labour.
FF is down from 20% to 16%, Labour falls from 11% to 10%. Meanwhile, Sinn Fein goes up from 21% to 25% and becomes the second most popular party behind Fine Gael which, interestingly, goes up two points to 32%.
The Fianna Fail ardfheis (annual conference) takes place in Dublin this coming weekend and these are not the type of figures the party wants to see before an event like that. What chance a triumphal, “Arise Knocknagoshel and take your place among the nations of the earth” atmosphere with the party apparently in the doldrums with the public?
Last October’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll gave the following results: Fine Gael, 35 per cent (down three points); Labour, 17 per cent (down one point); Fianna Fáil, 16 per cent (down two points); Sinn Féin, 18 per cent (up eight points); Green Party, 2 per cent (no change); and Independents/Others, 12 per cent (down two points).
A lot of attention has focused on FF’s stance vis-a-vis the European fiscal treaty. With its strong pro-EU history and leader Micheal Martin’s major role as foreign minister in getting the Lisbon Treaty passed the second time, there was no way the party was going to make negative noises when the new compact was being negotiated.
But with Sinn Fein adopting a clear-cut No stance, FF felt obliged to call for a consultative referendum and, while declaring support for the treaty in principle, the party demanded clarification of certain points, mainly of a legal and technical nature, before they came out in full-blooded support of the document.
The FF stance is highly-nuanced and, for the ordinary punter, somewhat confusing. There is no history of consultative referendums in this State and one suspects that Sean or Sinead Citizen will wonder what the Soldiers of Destiny are on about.
Who would want to be in Micheal Martin’s position today? He is leading a mixed-ability team with some very good performers and others who are hiding their light under a bushel – if they have a light to hide, that is.
Martin is a very bright man with a good grasp of policy issues. He was rightly praised for his initiative in bringing about the ban on smoking in the workplace, pubs, etc. But he has an unfortunate way with him in media interviews. If he doesn’t like the line of questioning, he just keeps talking and talking, apparently hoping the questioner will get tired and give up the ghost.
He is also longwinded and rarely confines himself to one paragraph where nine will do. He should read and re-read the Gettysburg Address every morning for the next three months. It is 268 words long and the message is crystal clear; Martin’s recent address to the IIEA on Europe was 5,093 words and still left reporters wondering where exactly he stood on the key issue of the fiscal treaty.
Meanwhile, one wonders when the other parties in the Dail are going to do their homework and compare what Sinn Fein is doing in the North with its professed policies on this side of the Border, not least on the European issue. The “Shinners” are getting a free ride from lazy opponents.
If the party’s current rise in popularity continues and ends up being reflected in a general election, SF is going to be faced with a dilemma. Should it go into government, where it would willy-nilly have to adopt policies broadly similar to the present administration and its predecessor (unless it wanted us to become another Argentina), or remain in opposition where it can continue its present populist line?
Labour in opposition took stances very similar to the ones being espoused by Sinn Fein at present. We all remember: “It’s Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way.” Well now they are in government and it looks very much like Frankfurt’s Way most of the time.
Yet, if Sinn Fein is to advance its all-Ireland agenda, the party needs to be in office in Dublin as well as Belfast.
At the same time, FG was populist in a country-cute way in opposition and has just gone up two points. Tell us your secret, Enda!