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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?

11 Comments

William Quill
Jun 4, 2011 at 8:05 pm

I hate to always bring things back to Fine Gael and conservatism (I know this post is about FF), but how would a free vote in FF in a referendum on marriage be any different than what would be likely in FG? It will surely be just as it was in 1985 on divorce, and I wouldn’t predict a fantastically big number of outspoken No advocates in the parliamentary party either to be honest.


 
William Quill
Jun 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm

One other thought. Much as I do give credit to the PDs in the early years for furthering liberal view on the economy, Northern Ireland and social issues, my feeling is that since the turn of the century, the party’s influence as a driver on social issues was limited. I think that was in the end one of our fatal failings, that Fiona O’Malley had to campaign for re-election in Dún Laoghaire having voted against Labour’s civil unions bill was something that I got on the doors when canvassing for her. Now, of course it was standard fare for a government to vote against an opposition bill and say they’re planning a better one. But that was in 2007, two years after Britain had introduced their civil partnership bill. So any liberal party worth the name should have been out the making marriage equality, or at least basic recognition, an issue in public debate from way before then, and we weren’t.

If Fianna Fáil members have become more liberal, it is probably just that they’re in tune with the wider population, where polls show very clear support for equality. Or if it was the influence of any coalition party, I’m afraid it was probably the Greens.


 
Jason O
Jun 5, 2011 at 2:42 pm

William, I agree with your analysis 100%. The PDs in the latter years lost interest in social reform. Given that Fiona O’Malley could happily have voted for the Labour bill without being disciplined by the party (the conscience clause) I was stunned when she voted against.


 
Jason O
Jun 5, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Aren’t Leo and Lucinda both against same-sex marriage?


 
William Quill
Jun 5, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Yes they are, and a few others in the parliamentary party besides. But as I said, “I wouldn’t predict a fantastically big number of outspoken No advocates in the parliamentary party either to be honest”. I imagine both FF and FG will allow representatives to take either side, so I don’t see where it puts Enda in a bind to the social conservatives as against how Micheál Martin will be within FF. Jim Walsh was re-elected as a FF Senator, whereas none of the FG parliamentary party actually voted against civil partnership. Note, I’m not trying to claim FG is less socially conservative than FF, just that there’s no reason to believe FG is more bound by that wing.

On Fiona, I think it was probably too late in the day for her electorally, but had she and Liz O’Donnell not voted on that bill, they might have given the party a small boost by reminding the public of that conscience clause and the diversity within the party, that we weren’t all a bunch of right-wing nutjobs.


 
Gregg
Jun 6, 2011 at 2:02 am

could either of you point to a significant socially liberal initiative that the PDs championed when they were in office at any point in their history? They were definitely all up for the small state when it came to the economy, but on social issues? just wondering


 
Jason O
Jun 6, 2011 at 7:55 am

Abolition of the death penalty, which happened during the 89-92 government.


 
Gregg
Jun 6, 2011 at 11:21 pm

I don’t mean to be flippant, but is that it? The death penalty hadn’t been used in the state since at least the 50s, and the actual referendum to abolish waited until the dark day that was Nice I (first time I voted, it was great fun). anything else? I ask because, unlike Labour or Garret’s FG who both talked the talk on social liberalism but also walked the walk, I’m not sure that the PDs were really ever about the old social liberalism. It certainly was never a priority for them in government, which of course made it easy to paint them as bunch unfeeling Thatcherite bastards (not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that of course ;) )


 
Jason O
Jun 7, 2011 at 6:56 am

Sadly, it probably is. The PDs were socially liberal in the beginning (the only non-left party to advocate a Yes vote to divorce in 1986) but gave up on social issues on entering government.


 
Michael
Jun 7, 2011 at 11:23 am

“the only non-left party to advocate a Yes vote to divorce in 1986″. Surely FG were advocating a yes vote in 1986 on divorce. Do you consider FG a left party?


 
Jason O
Jun 7, 2011 at 9:19 pm

From what I remember, FG did not advocate a Yes vote, as the party was divided and Garret had to permit deputies to take their own positions on it.


 

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