Irish politics has changed fundamentally but Fianna Fáil is living in the past

Posted By: December 16, 2020



Micheál Martin is terrified of FF being devoured by Sinn Féin


Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, December 16, 2020


Irish politics has changed fundamentally. It has taken a while for the two former dominant parties to realize that, though it’s questionable if Fianna Fáil [FF] has yet. The huge Sinn Féin landslide in February was initially viewed as a one-off, an aberration, a protest, but evidence of repeated opinion polls indicates it wasn’t.


This conclusion was confirmed in a poll a fortnight ago in the Sunday Business Post consolidating a trend that has been consistent all year. Fine Gael [FG soared in the spring with Varadkar performing well in the early months of Covid-19, but Sinn Féin remained steady, near its record in February. Fianna Fáil trailed. Then Micheál Martin became taoiseach fulfilling his lifelong ambition, but Fianna Fáil continued to trail behind FG and SF. The poll a fortnight ago reinforced this position: FG on 33 percent, SF on 30 percent – an all-time high – and FF on a shocking 12 percent. In other words, FF is exactly where it was in 2011 after the financial crash at its worst ever level.


Naturally, these figures, repeated over the months despite FF leading the government, have produced jitters in FF. The party has established a committee to review the last election results, but typically with FF these days it’s months late; even worse, it misses the point. The problem is not with the last election, though Micheál Martin fought a dreadful campaign. The problem is Fianna Fáil and what it stands for, a problem that no one in the party is addressing.


Among 18-34-year-olds, FF is on 10 percent; SF is on 41 percent – not a misprint – and FG on 36 percent. To add to FF’s woes the party is at 7 percent in Dublin. Those figures have remained more or less steady all year. Most people in the Republic live in the greater Dublin area, so go figure. One senior FF party figure asked about the figures by RTÉ answered: “We’re the middle ground. We have the farmer and the businessman so our image is wider. Fine Gael and Sinn Féin don’t have that.”


There you have it. This guy (and it will be a guy, being FF with its dearth of women at any level) is living in the past.


Furthermore, the comment reinforces the charge which SF levels at FF and FG, namely that they are parties of cliques and cronies, old boys’ networks. Most voters are neither farmers nor businessmen. Farmers are a declining element in the Irish population for a start, but the comment ignores 51 per cent of the voters – women – and the fact that the Republic’s prosperity comes not from farming but from foreign direct investment into high tech like Apple and Intel and pharmacy that produces sophisticated drugs like Botox and Viagra.


Worse, FF hasn’t come to terms with the fact that young people aged 18-34 working in modern high tech and services like banking, finance and insurance can’t afford houses because, though they earn high salaries, they’re priced out of the market and they blame Fianna Fáil. FF is perceived, whether they like it or not, to have been in government propping up Fine Gael in its austerity driven response to the financial crash since 2016. Now they’re back in government with Fine Gael repeating the same process and hoping for a different result.


Everyone knows FF went back into government with FG for one reason only. Micheál Martin is terrified of FF being devoured by Sinn Féin. Many in the party believe Martin made a serious error of judgment in returning to coalition with FG and handing the sole opposition role to Sinn Féin which got more votes than any other party. Many Fianna Fáilers are also convinced that voters don’t believe this government, with FG taking over the role of taoiseach in 2022, will deliver on the affordable housing and health care they desperately need, but that Sinn Féin will because SF will break the old boys’ network.