I recently issued a challenge to Fianna Fail readers to issue a defence of their party.
Declan Harmon, a Fianna Fail activist in Dublin, responded to the challenge.
I’m proud to be a member of Fianna Fáil. I don’t think members of our organisation say that often enough. I don’t subscribe to the sneering view put about by many commentators that all Fianna Fáilers are afflicted with some sort of original sin that we need to be purged of.
Fianna Fáil has much to be proud of. We are the most successful political party in Europe – which is something which we are expected by some to apologise for. We have a great national organisation in every corner of this land. Fianna Fáil representatives from the Taoiseach to TDs to councillors to ordinary party members have a well deserved reputation for hard work and commitment to their communities.
Of course, electoral success is not an end in itself but simply a means to achieving the goals that we, as a party, have set for ourselves and for the country. Yet many people outside the party don’t seem to understand what Fianna Fáil stands for and what motivates more people to join us than any other party. To shed some light on that, I would like to offer a personal perspective on why I joined Fianna Fáil and what it means to me.
I don’t come from a political family. No one in my family has ever stood for election and, while we would all be politically interested, no one was ever politically active – save for an aunt of mine who once upon a time joined a strange, pseudo-political cult called the Progressive Democrats – luckily she grew out of it. So I have no great family attachment to politics or affiliation to one political party.
I could have joined any political party. I could have joined Fine Gael – but I’m neither a large farmer from the Golden Vale, the grandson of a Blueshirt or a pathological loser so that ruled them out. I could have joined the Labour Party – but I’m not middle class enough for them. I could have joined the Greens – but could you really be bothered. And I could have joined Sinn Féin – but I didn’t want to be part of the Alcopop Party – appearing sweet and harmless but if it doesn’t agree with you it will blow your head off.
Now from reading that you might get the impression that I only joined Fianna Fáil because it was the least worst option, which of course isn’t the case. I didn’t join Fianna Fáil because I just disliked all the rest, although that was a happy coincidence.
I joined Fianna Fáil because I’m a Republican. Some people look at me a bit funny when I say that, and I suppose in certain circles it does sound a bit twee. But I genuinely believe in Republicanism, not only in terms of our national sovereignty but also in how we order our affairs as a nation. I believe that Fianna Fáil people share Republican values – we want to see Ireland united as a republic in the fullest sense, we want to see it reach its full potential and we want to see true equality of opportunity in this country so that all are given the chance to succeed in their lives.
How, one might ask, did I know that Fianna Fáil had these values when I signed up to be a member. Well, I knew the history of Fianna Fáil from the history of our country and the great historical figures who not only built up the party but who the country called upon to build up the independent Irish state. I knew the names like De Valera and Aiken who had fought to give Ireland the chance to determine its own destiny. I knew the names like Lemass and Lynch who strove to ensure that that chance wasn’t taken away from us or frittered away by us.
Aside from history, I could also see what was going on around me, the transformation of Ireland that was taking place in my time, before my eyes. I admire good leadership, which comes in many forms, and it was plain that good leadership was playing a huge role in the economic and social development of our country and in the peace process. That successful leadership was coming from Fianna Fáil, could only be provided by Fianna Fáil and I wanted to play a part, however small, in seeing that Fianna Fáil be given the chance to continue that work.
We were given that chance by the people of Ireland in May 2007 and the work goes on. Given the economic situation globally, it falls to Fianna Fáil in government to respond and steer our country through these difficult times. That will require tough decisions. We will see plenty of tough decisions in the forthcoming budget – many of which I’m sure won’t make us the flavour of the political month.
There are plenty of people out there playing the blame game. Many of the opposition politicians now claiming that the economic policies implemented by Fianna Fáil got us into these current difficulties, were copying those very same policies before the last general election and offering them to the electorate as their own. But right now the blame game isn’t important. The top priority has to be to protect the prosperity we have worked for so long to build up and ensure that this period of international economic turmoil doesn’t permanently damage the success Ireland has enjoyed.
I’m not going to pretend that I like every decision Fianna Fáil has made in government. Nor am I going to pretend that I am satisfied with the performance of Brian Cowen and his ministers. I agree with Jason’s assessment that the Brian Cowen we have both seen in private is the Brian Cowen the country needs, not the Brian Cowen that has been coming out with polysyllabic jargon. I remain convinced that the public would forgive him his gruffness if they felt confident that he was doing the right thing and taking the right decisions.
In order to gain that public confidence he will need to communicate more effectively than he has done in the job so far. He appears to have a very traditional, old-fashioned view of the role of the media as it relates to his job and he will need to change his attitude if he is to survive. I hope he does get his act together in that regard because I fear that his chance is slipping away from him. It would be a shame to see a man of his talents waste his opportunity due to his barely veiled contempt for the media.
When he throws away the civil service script Brian Cowen can be nigh-on evangelical. Back in October last, the Taoiseach said in an electric speech delivered in Trinity College that this is a defining moment in our nation’s history. I believe he was absolutely right. The decisions of today and the period ahead will shape our country far beyond an electoral cycle. They will determine the type of Ireland that my generation will live, work and raise a family in. That is both exciting and somewhat daunting. It is a political challenge that I think Fianna Fáil is best placed to handle, as it has handled many of the other defining moments in our history. We are best placed to handle it because of the pragmatic nature with which we approach problems.
Some people say that Fianna Fáil’s pragmatism is a weakness – that we stand for nothing. They are wrong. Fianna Fáil’s pragmatism is our greatest strength because we are free to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons without concern for any left wing / right wing ideological baggage that is no longer relevant. That does not mean that we stand for nothing. It means that we can never move too far out of touch with the people who entrusted us with power in the first place. Fianna Fáil can not take electoral support for granted anymore. If we are to convince the public that we are in fact the best party for the job we will have to do it the traditional way – door to door, person to person. We will have to fight for and earn every vote. That’s the way it should be.