Time for Fianna Fail to admit that Des O’Malley was right.

As Fianna Fail stumbles from the wreckage of its once formidable jumbo onto the desert island of potential political armageddon, it needs to recognise that everything has to be on the table in terms of political reconstruction. There will be a temptation to just point to the past and a lanky blind New Yorker and hope for the political winds to turn, but that would be foolish. Fianna Fail needs to be willing to confront a few ghosts. In fact, the mere act of confronting them will do the party good.

Des O’Malley was expelled from Fianna Fail in 1984 for “conduct unbecoming a member of Fianna Fail”. Funnily enough, given who it was who led the charge against him (Haughey and Co.), that turned out to be a very accurate charge to lay against O’Malley. By not being a thieving crook and a moralising hypocrite, O’Malley was indeed engaged in conduct unbecoming those certain members of Fianna Fail. But he was expelled for basically saying that issues of morality should be decided by personal conscience, not by the state. He was right, they were wrong, and the proof of that is that Fianna Fail is now relatively socially liberal and has endorsed all the liberal social positions on divorce and contraception that O’Malley was expelled for.

When Bobby Molloy joined the Progressive Democrats, a clause was inserted into the party constitution to ensure that Molloy, who was socially conservative, would not be forced to vote against his conscience. It became known as the conscience clause and it was one of the reasons I joined the party as a callow sixteen year old. That was the key to the PDs in my mind, that the party was liberal in that it permitted dissent on conscience issues, which was a big step at the time.

As Fianna Fail looks to reestablish itself, surely an option open to Micheal Martin is to adopt the O’Malley doctrine for Fianna Fail, to say that from here on in, Fianna Fail will operate such a conscience clause on issues of morality, and will no longer play divisive social issues like abortion or same-sex marriage, but will permit members to hold their own views. It would be an interesting way of signalling a difference with Fine Gael’s new social conservative wing (Eoghan Murphy excepted) and begin to define a new form of open, tolerant Republicanism for the 21st century. 

And while he’s at it, wouldn’t it be classy for him to issue an apology to Des O’Malley, and invite him to rejoin Fianna Fail? Who will he piss off? Padraig Flynn? Ray Burke? Bertie Ahern? And that will damage him how, exactly?     

9 thoughts on “Time for Fianna Fail to admit that Des O’Malley was right.

  1. There are very few liberal issues where society goes backwards. Maybe some, like immigration, perhaps the death penalty, but on balance, every additional generation tends to be more liberal than the last. I remember being regarded as an extremist because I supported decriminalising homosexuality, divorce and scrapping the ban on contraception. There are conservative votes, as Dana has proven, just not enough to stop social progress.

  2. In America you can look at the voting record because the weakness of whip system means they don’t all vote on party lines. Here, well a candidate had the cheek to tell me he didn’t vote for civil partnership because there was no vote. Look what the programme for government’s done on social issues – committees and run for cover.

    And the country isn’t demographically liberalising – that’s the classic liberal delusion, that only old people are conservative. Plenty of votes for a well organised conservative party in Ireland.

  3. Moving to the right on those issues is an dead end, because demographically the country is liberalising. You don’t, for example, seriously believe that the country is going to move to ban divorce or contraception again, do you? As for conscience clauses, that involves conservative voters actually getting organised properly: If a candidate refuses to state a position, give them a low rating. Do what the Americans do: http://www.godvoter.org/candidate-ratings.html

  4. That’s partially it. But Ireland has a much better relationship with Congress than Britain, and we can point to stuff we actually get from the US. You get some intelligence sharing and the right to be shot at.

  5. That might also have had something to do with Major stupidly allowing Tory Central Office staffers to work on the Bush’92 campaign!

  6. Curiously enough, Irish taxpayers don’t really mind this sort of stuff, as it builds influence. The Paddy’s Day parties hosted by the Embassy in Washington are legendary, and work. That’s why Bill Clinton sided with us against John Major (of “Special Relationship” fame).

  7. Sadly Jason I think we will see porcines flying over the frozen wastes of Hades before that happens!

  8. what you talking about Willis?

    Fianna Fail need to do the opposite. they need to establish themselves as the conservative party and they can hoover up the votes of people who oppose gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research etc. They will never win by moving to to the centre – there is no 50 states strategy. Conscience clauses are fine except that you need to know the personal views of each candidate you’re voting for and they won’t release that information. And even if they do and you carefully select your candidate to vote for, the party can stick someone you don’t like into a key ministry and you’re scuppered.

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