Fianna Fáil grandee says party will be pragmatic

Former senator Nioclás Ó Conchúbhair predicts FF and FG will not let process drag on

There are few in Connemara who can define realpolitik better than former Fianna Fáil senator Nioclás Ó Conchúbhair.

Ó Conchúbhair was appointed to the Seanad by then taoiseach Charles Haughey in return for serving as running mate for Máire Geoghegan-Quinn in two elections.

Years later, the Leitir Móir businessman chaired a 2005 report that criticised the "elitism" of the Galway "tent" and persuaded his party to drop its annual Ballybrit jamboree.

Patrick Pearse stayed in the house of Ó Conchúbhair's grandfather. His father and uncle were early members of Fianna Fáil, but another uncle was close to Michael Collins. So he is the child of a politically mixed marriage.


“And though I’m Fianna Fáil,” he says, “I still feel a mixture of anger and sadness at the idea that Éamon de Valera would take such advantage of a 31-year-old, as in Collins, to send him over to London to do a deal.”*

Even as he talks about the devastating impact and legacy of the Civil War, Ó Conchúbhair also recognises how little such nearly 100-years-old divisions may mean to new, young generations.

So he gives the two major parties six weeks, at most, before their supporters begin to stomp their feet.

"People in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are not going to allow this to drag on," he says, especially if international economic ratings start to slip.

Ó Conchúbhair anticipates that Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is already making plans for an ardfheis, but thinks that the space provided by St Patrick’s Day and Easter will be fortuitous.

All deciding

“The Independents and the smaller parties will be deciding what they want,” Ó Conchúbhair says. He doesn’t think the next government has to be, or even will be, a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael coalition.

“The word I am hearing is that we did better than expected, and why would we blow that now?” he says.

However, he does think Martin could consider a Tallaght strategy option.

The former councillor has direct experience of the minority Fianna Fáil administration, which was supported for two years by the strategy adopted by Fine Gael then leader, Alan Dukes.

“The Tallaght strategy allowed Fianna Fáil finance minister Ray MacSharry to plug a hole in the finances, to get several budgets through, and both MacSharry and Alan Dukes earned my respect.

“It was a lot harder on Dukes,” he adds, “and yet his party didn’t thank him for it in the long term.”

Fine Gael will be going through its own turmoil, with the Taoiseach having lost much of his praetorian guard. But Ó Conchúbhair doesn’t think a new leader of that party will necessarily make any difference to the grassroots members of Fianna Fáil.

Both former deputy leader and Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív and his city running mate, Cllr John Connolly, were adamant at the weekend that pre-election promises should not be broken, They said a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael marriage wouldn't last anyway.

Local level

Fianna Fáil councillor Mary Hoade was more measured in urging a "stable government". She noted that the two parties work together at local authority level.

Ó Cuív noted that “an awful lot of Independents” who secured seats are from a Fianna Fáil “gene pool”.

He cited former Progressive Democrat Noel Grealish in his own constituency, the Kerry Healy-Raes (now nicknamed in Connemara "Rae-nua"), Mattie McGrath in Tipperary and Seán Canney. who topped the poll in Galway East.

However, there is a perception that the former Gaeltacht minister’s influence within his party has been weakened by the fact that he failed to secure two seats in Galway West.

“The members will back Micheál Martin because he ran such a brilliant campaign,” Ó Conchúbhair says.

“At the same time, there are limits. I don’t think any members would accept a deal with Sinn Féin.”

*This article was amended on March 3rd 2016 to correct a factual error

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times