Friday 4 September 2009

What are Fianna Fáil doing?

The mystery around Fianna Fáil's intentions in the north has deepened. A few years ago there was some excitement around the possibility of the party organising in the north and even standing in elections. Then it appeared that they were more interested in some kind of arrangement with the SDLP.

But then in September last year things went into reverse gear when Taoiseach Brian Cowen said Fianna Fáil had indefinitely put off plans to organise in Northern Ireland.

In February 2009 though, the ard fheis called on the party to establish a 'Fianna Fáil forum in every county in Northern Ireland in order to facilitate party members in the North who wish to meet and engage with Fianna Fáil public representatives and members'.

And tomorrow, government Ministers Dermot Ahern and Éamon Ó Cuív are to travel to Downpatrick, Co Down, to initiate a Fianna Fáil 'forum' there.

So forwards, backwards, and now forwards again!

But why the high level of the delegation? Both Dermot Ahern and Éamon Ó Cuív are high profile ministers with, one presumes, heavy demands on their time. The Lisbon referendum is coming up, and given its political importance it is surprising that two popular ministers are taking time out to go to a vague 'forum' with no clear purpose or mandate. Fianna Fáil is grappling with enormous economic problems in the south, and may have to fight an election (that it would probably lose) within a few months – its popularity has been hard hit by a number of factors, not least the economic woes.

So why is their attention being focussed on the forum in Downpatrick?

Downpatrick is, along with Derry, one of the SDLP's strongest bastions. So establishing a forum there without tacit agreement from the SDLP would be considered quite a hostile move. The Belfast Telegraph, however, says that Eddie McGrady "was unaware of the event". If this is true, then Fianna Fáil's motives become very murky indeed.

Could the reasons for the forum be connected with next year's Westminster election? The local MP, the SDLP's aged Eddie McGrady, will be 75 next year. Although he has previously stated that he intends to stand again, the Fianna Fáil interest in his constituency could indicate that they suspect that there will be a new candidate (Margaret Ritchie?) who will need all the help (s)he can get. An active Fianna Fáil 'forum' lending its support to a new SDLP candidate may be enough to ensure his or her election. It may also be enough to encourage a few tactical votes from the centre, or even from unionists.

But why would Fianna Fáil do this outside an arrangement with the SDLP? Why do it at all? If the establishment of the forum is seen as a hostile act by the SDLP in its heartland, relations between the two parties could be soured, and for what?

The political class in the south has learned over many years what the SDLP may be just about to learn – that Fianna Fáil looks after its own interests first and foremost. The party is known for cunning and ruthlessness, and the event in Downpatrick must be seen in that light. There is no obvious reason for in, but that most certainly does not mean that there is no reason for it. This is an issue to watch.


hoboroad said...

Mary McAleese stands down as President of Ireland in 2011. Is the party putting in the ground work for her to run in South Down?

Anonymous said...

Would she be looking for The 'Nazi' vote?

Nordie Northsider said...

Yes indeed - the plot thickens. The usual explanation of FF interest in the North is that having a presence there would boost FF's Republican cred, giving the lie to SF's claim to be the sole all-Ireland party and thus enabling FF to go head to head with their chucky rivals. I've always thought that argument a bit faulty. Firstly the left-leaning SF aren't as much of a threat to FF as they'd like to be and, secondly, it's not clear that there are genuinely votes to be gained from an all-Ireland dimension. An all-Ireland party - is that worth as much as one vote in Limerick or Galway?
I've found the move North inexplicable from when Bertie first mooted it - especially in light of the fact that they were never going to fight Westminster elections.

picador said...

It smacks of a David Cameron style stunt aimed at shoring up the 'republican' vote in the 26 counties - Cameron had Scotland in mind when he got involved in UCUNF - in the face of the current crisis.

Fianna Fáil had their chance when the going was good but decided not to take it. 'Why the change of heart?' people will rightly ask. Having said that the moribund SDLP are still there for the taking.

I hope that Margaret Ritchie stands at the forthcoming Westminster election. Surely McGrady will not go forward again?

Anonymous said...

There are some real republicans in FF who want a 32 county party. Many others in FF see the north as nothing but trouble. The indecision to organise over the border reflects this.

picador said...

There are a few real republicans in FF who want a 32 county party. Most others in FF see the north as nothing but trouble. And let's face it who could blame them!

hoboroad said...

FF is all about power they don't do vanity projects. They are here for a reason and that is to hold and wield power in the North of Ireland. And they will steamroller anyone or anything that gets in there way. The SDLP are on there last legs and FF smell blood it will be a takeover not a merger. FF are not soft like the Tories were with the UUP.

Nordie Northsider said...

'There are some real republicans in FF who want a 32 county party. Many others in FF see the north as nothing but trouble. The indecision to organise over the border reflects this.'

I'm not an expert in the ways of FF but that has the ring of truth. I know some FF people and the contrast between them is astonishing - from Sunday Indo style partitionists who think that Ireland = 26 counties to genuine United Irishmen (and United Irishwomen). The party leadership has to keep both happy, of course.

picador said...

The introduction of 'Civil War politics' to the North would only be of benefit to unionism. Think how the nationalist vote would splinter between SF, SDLP, FF, FG, Labour, etc.

Antrim said...

I am a member of FF and was present at Downpatrick. The lauch of the Down forum is not the first north of the border, the first was set up in Armagh. This also has nothing to do with the economic downturn. It is the outworking of work started following Bertie's announcement. We have been proceding at our own pace ensuring that the growth is localy driven and nothing is imposed by HQ. We do not want to repeat the problems that SF have had with their all-Ireland expansion.

I would not be surprised if the SDLP knew nothing about the launch until a day or so beforehand. We are not the SDLP. They are a different political party. We are not driven by any agenda of any outside organisation. Even HQ will not interfere as this growth is entirely locally driven and controlled. I cannot see what is so murky about that. I am sure that we would welcome Mrs McAleese into the local party but we are not driven by any consideration there.

As for no support from the rest of the nation. That can only come from those who do not know the party mood. The party voted overwhelmingly for northern representation and it is now firmly party policy. At the Ard Fheis, Mark Hughes from Armagh and now living in Belfast, got voted into the Ard Comhairle, a remarkable feat as he had absolutely no natural base as only cumann have the vote. The council of twenty is notoriously hard to get elected to.

The party is resolutely behind the expansion and the project will be going ahead. This is only the second area to be developed. More is to follow.

At that meeting there were ex members of the SDLP, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionists and even a word of support from the Green Party. This is the level and spread of support Fianna fail attract.

If you are interested in joining get in touch.

Anonymous said...

The motivation behind Fianna Fáil developing in the North has nothing to do with "Smelling blood (ie demise of the Sdlp)" nothing to do with shoring up the republican base down in the south, and most definately is not being launched by hq or the senior leadership of the party in order to take attention away from difficulties in the Republic. It is happening because the first aim of Fianna Fáil per the first aim of the party (ie "To secure in peace and agreement the unity of Ireland and its people").

It is also happening because their is a substantial body of people within the party who believe that the party must begin to represent everyone from all corners of this island. We believe that whether someone is from Newry or Dingle is irrelevant. What is important is that we all live on the same island and that the people of the North deserve a real political alternative and that the people of this Island are best served by a unified political system.

The establishment of the party in Down has taken place organically with members approaching like minded members in the Republic seeking their help in establishing units. These cross border ties bore fruit when following the establishment by Ógra Fianna Fáil of units in the North the party's Ard Fheis mandated the Senior party to do likewise.

It is important to emphasise that while the SDLP and Fianna Fail have as Eddie McGrady stated in the Belfast Telegraph "cordial relationships" they are two distinct parties and Fianna Fáil seeks no parties permission to organise in areas where voters on the ground so ask them. Hence the fact that Eddie McGrady did not know that Saturdays event was taking place.

I congratulate the efforts of the Fianna Fail members in South Down and I look forward to the launch of Fianna Fáil in other constituencies throughout the North.