A Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael merger is predicted but which party will come out on top?

Posted By: July 15, 2020

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Change is coming. Former Fianna Fáil taoiseach Bertie Ahern says it’s possible Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will merge, but ‘not in the foreseeable future’.

Then, almost contradicting himself, he added that for the next few years FF and FG will be in government together. The outcome seems inevitable, but which party will emerge on top?

Ahern is not the first southern politician to predict a merger. Recently former FF minister Conor Lenihan wrote that FF would lose its identity after going into government with FG yet again. In reality, with the confidence and supply arrangement Micheál Martin agreed, FF has been in government propping up FG since 2016 and deservedly were blamed for that in the February election.

Ahern foresees politics in the south dominated by three large parties, FF, FG, and Sinn Féin. What’s happening in this scenario is that FF is leaking support to SF making senior FF people jittery about Micheál Martin’s revision of the Good Friday Agreement. Some in FF are concerned Martin is leaving the matter of The North open to SF. One is a potential rival to Martin, Jim O’Callaghan, TD for Dublin Bay South who turned down a junior ministry at justice.

O’Callaghan was elected on the eighth count under the quota in February in his fairly well-heeled constituency, trailing behind Chris Andrews of SF who was once a FF councilor. Eamon Ryan, leader of the Greens, topped the poll. The FG vote was more than double O’Callaghan’s. O’Callaghan says FF has to reach out to young, radical, educated people who support Irish unity, as they did in Dublin Bay South where more than half the population is under 35. The constituency is like most others in Dublin, a desert for FF. Elsewhere, results weren’t great including Martin’s own constituency Cork South Central where SF’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire topped the poll with 25 percent of the vote, and Martin was only elected on the sixth count.

February wasn’t a flash in the pan. Since then SF has stayed solid in the polls at 25 percent whereas FF has slumped to 14 percent but FG has soared, buoyed up by a successful response to Covid-19. The question people like O’Callaghan are asking is how do FF recover? Either they become more like FG, then lose more young, radical voters and submerge, or, if they don’t, they leach more support to SF. The future looks bleak.

Martin is due to meet Stormont executive parties tomorrow when no doubt he’ll repeat his nonsense on stilts line developing consensus about a ‘shared island’. He must know it will never happen because Unionists will withhold consent otherwise they cease to be Unionists. It’s a transparent ploy to avoid talking about Irish unity which Martin has not, and never will do anything to promote, despite it being a constitutional imperative for An Taoiseach. In Martin’s revised version of the GFA, a Border Poll is in some way detached from the three sets of relations in the agreement promoting which have become his nebulous objective.

Now the question is whether Simon Coveney, who is still Minister for Foreign Affairs, will take a different line from Martin because, being Fine Gael, he feels no apprehension whatsoever in being accused of sounding like SF. In a desperate attempt to avoid sounding like SF-lite Martin has decided to revise the GFA which was negotiated by a FF taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. Martin says he believes ‘passionately’ in the GFA. He might have added, except for the bits that sound like SF policy.

Concocting his meaningless ‘shared island unit’ means ignoring what Jim O’Callaghan calls ‘the illogicalities of partition’ which used to be a distinctive feature of Fianna Fáil’s position.

Martin has to come up with something better to prevent the party from being beaten by SF before the next election for he won’t be able to fix the housing and health crises, never mind the economic fallout.