Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

The debates in Fianna Fail.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 4, 2011 in Irish Politics

Fianna Fail: The way ahead?

Fianna Fail: The way ahead?

Over the last two weeks, I have been speaking to a number of Fianna Fail activists about the future of the party. A number of interesting points, or at least points I think are interesting, arose.

1. There actually is an ongoing debate. Traditionally, I have found Fianna Fail activists to be very hesitant about expressing strong opinions on the party not to me, but in front of other Fianna Failers. This is changing, and I witnessed very robust exchanges. If Fianna Fail learns just one thing from this entire process, it’s that internal dissent and criticism is not the same as disloyalty to the party. I never cease to be amazed at how weak Fianna Failers seem to believe their party is, that it will shatter if different voices are heard. One of the reasons for this is the tendency of the modern media to regard every differing voice as some sort of massive bust up or challenge to the leadership. Curiously, I don’t think the public think that way. Perhaps Fianna Fail need to stop letting the media decide how they will run their party, rather than let the media transform the Ard Fheis into a bland boring setpiece devoid of any real debate?

2. I was really surprised at the wide spectrum of opinions being offered. Indeed some people are suggesting Fianna Fail move in directions that stunned me, not in disgust, but in delight. It would seem that intimate long-term contact with the Progressive Democrats has had a certain effect on Fianna Fail. If one considers the planned same-sex marriage referendum, for example, would it be that far fetched for Martin to allow a free vote on the issue as a matter of personal conscience? The public certainly would not object, and it would put Enda Kenny in a bind with his own social conservatives.

3. The most interesting aspect of the debate is the challenge of matching  the party’s traditional strengths to future needs. One young member astutely pointed out the fact that discipline within the party has been one of the party’s greatest strengths, yet accepted that it could lead to abuse (Haughey) or paralysis (Cowen). It would seem to me that it will be very hard, out of government and devoid of the patronage that bestows, for the party to reestablish its traditional top-down leadership. I would not be surprised, for example, if Martin decides to give ordinary members a say in electing the party leader, perhaps as part of an electoral college with the parliamentary party. After all, if the members are good enough to sell the party on the doorstep, surely they’re good enough to choose the party leader?

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