Mr Keaveney’s move
The decision by Galway East TD Colm Keaveney to join Fianna Fáil reflects his determination to remain a relevant voice in the Dáil, just as Micheal Martin has reiterated his resolve to reform and expand the reach of his party. Difficult times lie ahead for both men. The grudging, internal reaction to Mr Martin’s initiative is reminiscent of the way in which Fianna Fáil senators declined to make way for new blood in 2011. And Mr Keaveney faces immense local challenges, notably in the shape of the Kitt dynasty.
Galway East does have form in electing unconventional candidates. Last time out, former Progressive Democrat leader Ciarán Cannon was returned comfortably as a Fine Gael TD. On this occasion, however, the constituency will have three seats to offer rather than four. Unless the Fine Gael vote implodes, the party seems destined to take two seats, with the remaining one going to Fianna Fáil. Mr Keaveney hopes to wrest that seat from sitting TD Michael Kitt. It will not be easy. Elected there in 2011, the former Labour Party chairman was placed eighth in terms of first preference votes and won with Independent transfers.
Empathy for Mr Kitt, who has held a seat there for almost 40 years, increased at Leinster House when he expressed “surprise” at Mr Martin’s announcement. He may be of retiring age, but so are a number of his prominent Fianna Fáil colleagues. They have no intention of leaving the political stage and Mr Martin’s open invitation to other disaffected TDs or Senators to join Fianna Fáil will have unsettled them.
Rebuilding a party that forfeited the confidence of the electorate is a complex operation. Apologies for past failings and the production of new policies has improved opinion poll ratings, but a rejuvenated organisation and seats in the Dáil are what really count. Next year’s local and European election may provide the foundations for a Fianna Fáil recovery.
In the meantime, however, Mr Martin is making difficult choices.