Repost: For most of my life, Fianna Fail were the baddies. This was the party of Charles J. Haughey, of tapping phones and beating up political opponents, where corruption was the norm. This was the party where Ray Burke and Pee Flynn and Liam Lawlor were regarded as the mainstream, and where George Colley and Des O’Malley and Bobby Molloy were regarded as traitors for not going along to get along.
This was the party that ran on slogans of “Health cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped” and “There is a better way” and then in power brought in even harsher cuts in spending.
But most of all, Fianna Fail were the party of minimum change, the establishment and the status quo. If there was anything wrong in Ireland, it was either Fianna Fail’s fault for doing it or not doing anything to stop it. Elections were about keeping Fianna Fail out, or at least keeping an eye on the bastards when they were in power.
Then Fine Gael and Labour got in on a platform of reform and change, and started to break promises within weeks. And not just economic promises. Within weeks of entering power, Fine Gael and Labour were abandoning any real political reform and instead paying their cronies the salaries they had attacked Fianna Fail for.
Which leaves me with a choice. Who do I vote for? The government with the biggest list of broken promises in the shortest time in Irish history? Sinn Fein? The Greens, who I have time for but have shown that even in government they struggled to have an impact? Could I vote for Fianna Fail?
What would Fianna Fail have to do to get me onboard?
1. Stop pandering. I have no problem Fianna Fail criticising cuts to public spending. What I have is a serious problem with Fianna Fail refusing to lay out, euro for euro, its alternative. If it can’t do that, if Fianna Fail has not got the intellectual capacity or the political willingness to do so, then it is trying to get elected on the same platform of lies as this crowd.
2. Become a proper liberal party. Fianna Fail is now a member of the European Liberals in the European Parliament. Now, I’m not so naive as to think that overnight FF can become socially liberal, but then, I would not expect it to. Nor does it even need to. Michael Martin should announce that the parliamentary party will designate certain issues, like gay marriage and abortion, as matters of individual conscience, and allow members to vote accordingly. It would be a major step for the party, put pressure on FG and Labour to follow suit, and allow constituents to lobby on those issues meaningfully.
3. Fianna Fail still has an ethics issue. Nothing has changed in FF to prevent the sort of carry-on from the past. The party should appoint an Ethics Commissioner from outside the party, someone of absolute public integrity, perhaps a retired judge, with the power to investigate and permanently dismiss any member from the party. Overnight, FF sets the gold standard on political integrity.
4. Set up an arms-length think tank, funded but not run by the party, with 51% of its board being non-FF members. The objective will be to examine and draft policies to reflect modern Republicanism, with the party free to pick and choose from its output, and even fly the occasional kite. It will also allow FF to broaden its support base without formally asking people to join the party. In the US, UK and on the continent it is becoming the norm for parties to draw on sympathethic exterior bodies. FF could look at the Centre Forum in the UK as an example. As a working title, how about The Lemass-Collins Institute?
5. Fianna Fail needs to start thinking about future coalition arrangements, in particular with Fine Gael and Sinn Fein. If Labour get hammered at the next election, an FG/FF coalition has to be an option for debate, and coming out with a simple historical “No” will lead to FF TDs and senators being made look like clowns on the telly and the radio, because the public does not respect that answer. Secondly, FF needs to have its SF answer ready. Where would FF stand on an SF justice or defence minister controlling Garda promotions, or an SF education minister rewriting what history is taught in our schools?
Of course, all this hinges on Fianna Fail not being dominated by an old guard who think that nothing has changed, and they just have to sit tight, shout at the government, lie to everybody else and wait for the clock to reset. They might even be right.