Breda O’Brien: Fianna Fáil is alienating core voters without attracting new ones

‘There is no party that now represents those who are socially conservative but not economically right wing’

‘Micheál Martin is obsessed with electoral success in Dublin, but he believes that the way to gain it is by “modernising” the party. He has surrounded himself with people who think the same way, and is doing the equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and going “nah-nah-nah-nah” to anyone inside or outside the party who says anything different.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

‘Micheál Martin is obsessed with electoral success in Dublin, but he believes that the way to gain it is by “modernising” the party. He has surrounded himself with people who think the same way, and is doing the equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and going “nah-nah-nah-nah” to anyone inside or outside the party who says anything different.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

 

Political commentators are ignoring one reason for Fianna Fáil’s continuing poor performance in opinion polls. Fianna Fáil under Micheál Martin is alienating core voters, without attracting new ones.

There is no party, as far as I can see, that now represents the significant number of Irish people who are socially conservative but not economically right wing.

They are to be found in every province and every city. There are large numbers of disenfranchised voters in Dublin, too, who wonder who on Earth they are going to vote for in the next election.

A reasonable number of those people used to vote for Fianna Fáil. They will not be doing so at the next election.

Martin is obsessed with electoral success in Dublin but believes the way to gain it is by “modernising” the party. He has surrounded himself with people who think the same way, and is doing the equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and going “Nah-nah-nah-nah” to anyone inside or outside the party who says anything different.

Well, how is that working for him? The polls see Fianna Fáil still languishing, even though Martin has worked with remarkable tenacity to improve the fortunes of the party.

He even canvasses door to door in Dublin, as I discovered when he came to my door one day.

Virtual unanimity about social issues

The only differences are to be found in the economic area, mostly among Independent deputies, some of whom are socialist and some of whom are socialist- anarchist.

Among the new parties, some appear to be right-wing economically but only marginally different to everybody else when it comes to issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Fianna Fáil is missing an opportunity. Although among people of a certain age, the image of Fianna Fáil is intrinsically bound up with that ruthless and greedy opportunist, Charlie Haughey, there was always another strand to the party.

It was the part of the party that would have concurred with Éamon de Valera’s observation, as citedquoted by Deaglán de Bréadún, that as long as there were people in the country denied the opportunity of getting a decent living the country was not really free.

That wing of Fianna Fáil had a core commitment to fairness. Fianna Fáil was seen as the party of the small farmer, as opposed to the rancher; of the ordinary working classes and modest middle classes, rather than the elites.

Now, Martin’s ambition seems to be perceived as being as “respectable” as Fine Gael; and it is a strategy doomed to failure. Not least because Fianna Fáil has expended considerable energy trying to show that Fine Gael is part of an utterly flawed Government.

All that has achieved is more cynicism among voters about politicians in general. There is no visible bounce in the polls for Fianna Fáil from it.

Fine Gael electoral strategy

The next step is obvious – offer the electorate the option of continuing with Fine Gael and Labour, or to go with a coalition of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and a ragtag assortment of Independents.

Given that choice, Fianna Fáil might come back with still fewer seats.

Not to mention the fact that the jibe regularly thrown at Fianna Fáil – that they are the shower who got us into this mess – is still sticking to Martin. It’s true enough, but they were far from alone.

(Don’t think it’s unfair to blame them for everything? Revisit Fine Gael and Labour’s joint economic manifesto before the downturn. Their major concern was to outbid Fianna Fáil in auction politics. Getting rid of stamp duty for first-time buyers would not exactly have stopped the property bubble inflating.)

But in order to get past that toxic legacy, Fianna Fáil has to show some kind of commitment to radical change. There is nothing radical about eagerly embracing the same groupthink that is strangling every aspect of the establishment from politics to the media.

Currently, there is nothing distinctive about Fianna Fáil, which is why the idea of a merger between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is being seriously mooted. But most Irish politicians are middle- aged men steeped in the adversarial relationship that has existed for generations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. They are not going to embrace coalition, much less a merger, unless there is absolutely no other way to hold on to power.

Fianna Fáil is merrily alienating its core voters, while doing absolutely nothing to gain new ones. The party has been feverishly trying to gather female candidates but unless their candidates are people who will attract the politically homeless why should anyone vote for them?

There is an embarrassment of riches already when it comes to bog-standard, groupthink politicians. Unless Fianna Fáil wants to face extinction, it will have to start doing better than that.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.