Averil Power, Fianna Fail radical?

Sen. Averil Power

Sen. Averil Power

Fianna Fail senator Averil Power’s bill to protect gay teachers is an interesting snapshot into Fianna Fail thinking. Some people are surprised that it is Power who is pushing the bill, having bought into the incorrect view that her mentoring by (and friendship with) Mary Hanafin means that she shares Hanafin’s conservative views. It will surprise many that Power is actually quite left wing on social and economic issues whilst being, shall we say, very firm on law and order. Having said that, the bill itself raises interesting questions about where Fianna Fail sees itself going. Whereas it is unlikely that Fianna Fail will repudiate its conservative voters ( and would be foolish to do so) it looks very likely that Fianna Fail has now accepted that a strong and visible socially liberal wing will be part of its recovery. It will also be influenced by its membership of the European Liberals in the European Parliament. This can be over-hyped, of course, but as FF members attend ELDR/ALDE events, new ways of thinking about issues do emerge. In my own experience, as a Young PD in the ELDR, the social liberalism that grew in the YPDs was a partial side effect of engaging with our European partners.
What will also be interesting will be Fine Gael’s reaction, and whether FG will become the conservative party on social issues, finally trading places with FF and dealing the death knell to the last vestiges of Garrett? Could we see FF finally go the Des O’Malley route of allowing votes of conscience on designated issues? I wouldn’t rule it out.

8 thoughts on “Averil Power, Fianna Fail radical?

  1. Is Mary Hanafin that socially conservative? I think she may be an Opus Dei member, but from all accounts, she was quite open when it came to issues like tackling homophobic bullying. Whatever may be true of members of her family, I don’t think she had any reputation for being a resisting force on civil partnership.

    I also agree with comments above that you’re attributing a lot to ELDR/ALDE membership. The three FF MEPs don’t seem to be settling down well at all there, though Brian Cowen and Dick Roche have got on well at a leadership level. I’d guess Sen. Power’s initiative is based simply on being politically active in a modern changing Ireland.

    It’s probably remiss of you not to mention this is already part of Ruairi Quinn’s agenda. Which means the government will probably oppose Power’s welcome initiative if it comes to the Dáil (it could pass in some form in the Seanad), but only because the government will say that they have their own comprehensive proposals coming down the line. I don’t particularly like the way governments here can’t take prompting from the opposition, or just treat private members’ bill as that, but that’s as it is.

    As to Fine Gael, it’s been a mix of conservatives and liberals for decades for years, and the same is true of the new intake. People love to focus on the conservatives, but recently we had two new TDs, Simon Harris and Seán Kyne (as well as Labour’s Dominic Hannigan), ask Alan Shatter about protecting children of same-sex couples. There are other liberals among them too, though I don’t have links on hand.

    As to the comment from Arthur on Young Fine Gael, we do tend to be quite fiscally conservative, but not true to describe us as a group as socially conservative. The North is less salient than it is for Ógra, but we’re not anti-nationalist either, it’s another area where there’s a range of views.

  2. The figures below are from polling I commissioned about 2 and a half years ago, but I don’t think they’ve changed that much. We live in a country where:

    46% oppose abortion in all or most cases
    44% oppose gay marriage (not necessarily civil unions)
    A plurality (32%) agree with the statement “Government’s should prioritise keeping taxes low instead of increasing spending”
    25% would support withdrawal from the EU (with about another 10% who are sceptical, to say the least)
    and where 47% say they have at least “some concerns” about the rate of immigration, with 21% strongly concerned.

    I would love to know why no party embraces that platform. I’ve tried for the life of me to figure it out, but I can’t. They all chase the 40% on the other side of those issues, for some reason, and leave those people alone.

    The best theory I have is that most of the people who hold the views above are die-hard FFers or FGers who don’t make the connection between what they think and how they vote. It’s a deeply patronising assumption, but it’s the best I have.

  3. Funny thing about the North: I have yet to meet an FFer who has given much thought to how a united Ireland would actually work. Would we get a new flag? National anthem? Would we recognise the British honours system, and their monarch in our constitution, or the tradition amongst unionists of joining the British Army?

  4. Really agree with most of the thoughts expressed by both Jason and Derek.
    Another thing worth looking at is the difference between YFG and Ógra FF.
    Ógra are (for the most part, and I can think of the obvious exceptions) quite a liberal bunch in terms of social policy. Ógraí tend to be centrist on economics and generally more nationalistic on the ‘Northern Issue’.
    YFG are in my experience quite right wing both economically and socially. I don’t believe the six counties enters their mindsets.
    *Admits FF membership.*

  5. Interesting points Derek, although I think you missed my point about the ALDE. When FF was in an alliance with the RPR, they were even more conservative than you, and remain so. In current form, as the UMP, they are still opposed to same sex marriage, whereas FF seems to be heading towards a more nuanced position. Will ALDE people be over for the Ard Fheis?

  6. Interesting blog, though I am a bit surprised that you seem surprised at this at all. As a former adviser myself I can assure you that the dynamic is one of pushing and persuading our bosses not the other way around. Contrary to some what some believe we are not like pet dogs who come to look and sound like our masters. The best adviser/minister relationships are based on mutual respect not political synchronicty. Having worked with Averil on drafting portions of the 2007 FF manifesto I can attest to the fact that she has held consistently to the views she expresses today.

    I think you atrribute to much importance to the ALDE relationship. Our joining that group did not cause some massive swing in our political centre of gravity, it reflected one that was already there. When we first entered the EP we did so as part of the European Progressive Democrats a group that largely omprised of Ff and the RPR (Gaullists). Its where the PDs got their name!

    Too many forget that though decriminalisation was long delayed, it was a FF Minister who made the step, Maire Geoghegan Quinn, and when she did she went the full hog bringing ina common age of consent.

    While there has always been a strong element of Social conservatism within FF, it has been one tinged with realism and even tolerance. FF mores has reflected the prevailing trend, it has never really sought to impose it on those who don’t share it. In a word its called republicanism.

    Finally, this generation of FG, typified by the cohort of quite right of centre Reps elected in 2009 and 2011, has buried the Garret project to turn FG from a Christian Democrat party into a Social Democrat one for once and for all.

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