Laying blame for all ills at Fianna Fáil's door is lazy and inappropriate


OPINION:While the public anger is understandable, it will not help recovery

I BEGAN writing this on the morning of Thursday, January 20th, which, as it turned out, was the day that Taoiseach Brian Cowen called a date for the general election following a shambolic affair over the resignation of Fianna Fáil ministers and a failed attempt to have them replaced.

Fianna Fáil looks set and seemingly determined to receive the worst electoral defeat in its long history. The aftermath will no doubt see many of Ireland’s commentators write mixed but definitive political obituaries about the party. Phrases of “once proud party” and “political annihilation” are bound to be included in these contributions.

I have some difficulty about this lazy and agenda-driven consensus about the necessary political death of Fianna Fáil. Electing Micheál Martin as the eighth leader of the party, and his clear expressions of regret for “past mistakes”, along with his stated determination to bring the party back to its centrist and community-based roots, gives those of us who remain in the party some hope.

Too many individuals and processes within our political, social and economic establishment have let the people down. To lay all of these at the foot of Fianna Fáil is not only inaccurate and lazy but fails to address the failure of all sectoral interests of society to work together for the people.

Yes, Fianna Fáil deserves and needs to enter the opposition benches following the general election. Yes, it is appropriate and important that the electorate voices anger and dissatisfaction at the economic state of our nation by removing Fianna Fáil from government, but, to repeat a necessary cliche, anger is not a policy for Ireland’s economic, political and social recovery.

Democratic politics in the western world has moved on from the simplistic political cleavage of left versus right. Yes, parties of both the right and the left exist and thrive, but both liberalist free market capitalism and big state social democracy have fundamental flaws. Many of these reside in a slavish adherence to so-called “principles” at the expense of dialogue with other legitimate viewpoints.

Fianna Fáil needs to go back to the beginning. There is a large centrist streak in the Irish electorate that needs to be represented in mainstream politics. That has been the key to Fianna Fáil’s strength in the past and can be again. The idea that Fine Gael, Labour or Sinn Féin can consistently reflect that centrist streak is highly unlikely.

Fine Gael is a centre-right political party. The newer, younger and louder elements of that party reflect an uncomfortable truth that the right-wing ideology of the Progressive Democrats now dominates Fine Gael thinking. Brian Hayes, Leo Varadkar and Dr James Reilly are just three of the new establishment whose political thinking owes more to Michael McDowell than Garret FitzGerald.

Labour, for all its new rhetoric, is politically and financially wedded to the leadership of the trade union movement. It is also an urban middle-class political party. It has gained ground in the urban public service middle class but has gained little or no ground in rural Ireland.

This election is an opportunity for the generation I represent (I am 36) to articulate the vision of a future we want. It is our generation that is primarily facing the burden of economic hardships, yet our representation in local and national politics is pitiful. This generation is more educated, travelled and professionally experienced than any that has gone before it. It is better equipped and motivated to build a better Ireland.

As a member of Fianna Fáil I believe we can contribute to this task. Being in politics is not all about being in power.

John Mullen is a postgraduate student in UCD’s department of politics and international relations and was deputy national organiser of Fianna Fáil 2000-2004