Monday 26 September 2016

'Fianna Fáil in bed with Fine Gael, did you ever hear anything so ridiculous? I'd be disgusted...'

Graham Clifford

Published 21/02/2016 | 02:30

Fianna Fáil activist John Loughnan isn't totally against a Grand Coalition.
Fianna Fáil activist John Loughnan isn't totally against a Grand Coalition.
No issue with coalition: Fine Gael canvasser Kevin O'Regan. Photo: Provision

In the heart of Michael Collins' country, supporters are ready to accept the 'stepping stone' to a coalition between the traditional giants of Irish politics. It's nearly a century since the rebel leader and father of Fine Gael was shot and killed at nearby Béal Na Bláth - but this week, many party members told Review that Civil War politics is dying out in this corner of West Cork.

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Kevin O'Regan, a former Fine Gael town councillor in Clonakilty, admits things have moved on.

"Our primary aim is to get our two Fine Gael TDs re-elected in this constituency. But yes, I think most of us can now accept that time has moved on. On the ground in Clonakilty, both parties are fairly united and work closely on local issues. They relate well to each other. There are undoubtedly similarities and I wouldn't personally have any major issue with the prospect of a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil coalition - if that's what the people decided," he says.

Across town, John Loughnan is on the canvas for the constituency's Fianna Fáil candidate, Margaret Murphy O'Mahony. She's hoping to claw back a seat for the party with Labour's Michael McCarthy looking vulnerable.

John is knocking on doors, handing out leaflets and trying to avoid the downpour. He's been a proud soldier of destiny all his life and is a former mayor of the town.

"Should our party go into coalition with Fine Gael? Well, ours is a party of government, it has been since the foundation of the State, and I believe that our country needs stability of government. Once all the votes are counted, the will of the people must be listened to. Undoubtedly, there's a changing political environment out there and the national interest must be protected," he says, without stating outright he's in favour of a historic union between Enda and Micheál.

The further west you go, though, the less flexible the FF party stalwarts seem.

One of the party's supporters in Dunmanway tells me: "If that happened (a FG/FF coalition), I'd hand in my party membership straight away. Fianna Fáil in bed with Fine Gael, did you ever hear anything so ridiculous? I'd be disgusted if we did that. It would destroy our party, especially if we were the junior party in coalition and be a gift to Sinn Féin for the next election."

In Skibbereen, the chairman of the local Fianna Fáil cumann, Con McCarthy, is similarly miffed by the talk of a Grand Coalition after this month's election.

"From speaking with party members, I don't see any appetite for it, definitely not," says McCarthy. "I'd say even if Fianna Fáil ended up being the biggest party after the next election, the party faithful around here wouldn't want them to join up with Fine Gael in government. After the election, we'd need to have a national convention where party members vote on any proposed coalition. If that were to happen, I think the votes from west cork would be firmly against it."

And at the post office in Skibbereen, Fine Gael's Adrian Healy laughs when talk of a coalition of old enemies is mentioned.

"When I was on the council here, the councillors from both parties worked well together but I'm afraid at national level, such a coalition would be a no-no. Fianna Fáil did so much damage to the country, how can we overlook that? You know before this government came to power, this town was desperately neglected. Millions have poured into Skibbereen under this government and we want the Fine Gael-Labour coalition returned. This is West Cork, Civil War politics defined our families down through the years - most people won't let that go…. and nor should they."

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