No FG-FF truce in sight as new generation stress differences

Younger members insist major cultural and policy issues divide the two parties

Newly elected FF TD Jack Chambers: “Fundamental policy differences” between the parties have only widened during the election. Photograph: Alan Betson

Newly elected FF TD Jack Chambers: “Fundamental policy differences” between the parties have only widened during the election. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

It all seemed so much easier in the good old days, said comedian Gráinne McGuire last weekend.

“Just vote against whatever side might have tried to kill your grandad in the Civil War,” she tweeted.

So, in the aftermath of an inconclusive general election result, is a new generation of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil activist ready to do a deal and finally bury the Civil War hatchet?

“Our differences don’t have anything to do with whose grandfather killed who anymore,” says Ian Woods (26), a PhD student at UCD and member of Ógra Fianna Fáil. “It might have started there, but we’ve evolved into very different political cultures.”

It’s a familiar refrain among members of the youth wings of both political parties.

Tribalism

Aideen Burke (21), a member of Young Fine Gael, based in Whitegate, Co Clare, concedes there is a tribalism at the root of the tensions which is most deep-rooted in rural areas.

“There are houses that you just wouldn’t canvass because you know there are no votes there,” she says.

“I’ve canvassed with the party in Dublin and I don’t think people in urban areas realise how deep the divisions are . . . you grow up hearing all the stories, and that Fine Gael is good, and Fianna Fáil is bad, and vice versa.”

When it comes to policies, many commentators say there is barely the width of a credit card between the two parties.

They point to key policy areas such as education, investment in public services and job creation which are broadly similar.

Jack Chambers (25), the newly elected Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin West, disagrees.

There are, he says, “fundamental policy differences” between the parties which have only widened during the election and threaten to make any coalition virtually impossible.

He says issues such as water charges (Fianna Fáil supports the abolition of Irish Water), health (it supports investment in the public system, rather than universal health insurance) and tax cuts divide the parties.

Social conscience

Fintan Phelan (23), a Carlow-based Fianna Fáil councillor, puts it even more succinctly: “We’re trying to bring about a more equal Ireland – but Fine Gael just wants to cut tax for the well-off.”

The idea that a younger generation – 100 years after the Civil War – might be more open to a deal than an older one is quickly scotched.

Colm Taylor, the 25-year-old president of Young Fine Gael, says mutual animosity extends right across the generations.

“It would be hard for older party members who’ve spent their lives fighting Fianna Fáil,” he says. “But it wouldn’t be any easier for younger members . . . We have different principles and values that set us apart. We’re more centre-right than Fianna Fáil and we’re socially more liberal. You see that in particular among young candidates.”

Among young Fianna Fáil supporters, beyond the rhetoric, there are very practical considerations.

Most see very clearly that a formal coalition would be electoral suicide given that Sinn Féin would be in a position to cement its status as the main opposition party.

Even supporting a minority Fine Gael administration is an issue which most tread very carefully around.

“It would very much depend on what the other party is proposing,” says Eoin Neylon, the 29-year-old president of Ógra Fianna Fáil.

Principles

Even if a minority arrangement did work, there are few young Fine Gaelers who see it as the start of any kind of longer-term truce between the parties.

“People need two options in rural areas,” says Taylor, based outside Cashel, Co Tipperary. “Voters here aren’t interested in Labour or Sinn Féin for the most part . . . They’ll always want something to choose between.”