Days of political hegemony well and truly over for FF
The party wasn't punished for making tough economic decisions -- a change was long overdue, writes Mary O'Rourke
So the dust has settled after the General Election -- or at least it has half settled. We have seen the tsunami against Fianna Fail which has swept Ireland. All that remains now is for next Wednesday and the coming into government of the new combination of Fine Gael and Labour and the stunning and startling range of opposition members who will inhabit the seats in Dail Eireann.
The political implications of this election will be with us for many years to come.
So what of Fianna Fail?
In my opinion, Fianna Fail will never again gain the numerical strength of the numbers it once had in Dail membership. Those days of political hegemony are over and it is as well that they are.
The heady heights of numbers achieved by Fine Gael will not be achieved again either. Political life will settle down to more realistic levels. It is just nonsense for Fianna Fail members to continue saying that it was the hard economic decisions that has rendered us to this paltry 20-seat membership of the 31st Dail.
Of course, the difficult decisions had an effect; but it was not the only reason. The real reason was the almost 24 years, from 1987, of government by Fianna Fail. Some of those were years in one-party government and later in coalition with the Progressive Democrats, Labour, Greens and various Independents. Of course, there was a blip of two-and-a-half years of rainbow government in the mid-Nineties. But that was so long ago it has almost escaped people's minds. To them, we were in solid ownership of the country and hence in solid ownership of the years of bad fortune that are now haunting us.
It was time for a political change and even if the financial tenor of the day was good there would still have been that strong desire for a change of political leadership. I hope this lesson has now been understood by us as a party.
We should have lost the election in 2007 but, of course, we didn't. Many within the party still think that we had a god-given right to be the rulers of this small country.
In recent months, we have watched the thousands marching in Egypt and now thousands more in Libya and right across the Middle East. They are marching to attain democracy, often through bloodshed and death. Yes, the people of Ireland marched, but not with bloodshed on their hands, but with revenge in their hearts.
Grim and all as it was for us as a party, there was something dramatic and grandiose about the result. This was no puny revolution, this was dramatic stuff and the end for Fianna Fail came in swift blows at the ballot boxes.
What is the future now for Fianna Fail? Leader Micheal Martin has a mountain to climb and it is up to everyone in Fianna Fail to help him on that steep ascent. But we, as members, can only do so if we recognise clearly what has happened to us and why it happened to us to bring about this catastrophic change in our political fortunes. It happened, in my opinion, because it was well past time for such a political change. Political opinions and views from now on will be volatile and shifting. Old loyalties will pale beside new realities and new ideas.
Can Martin and his not-so-merry band of 20 males in Dail Eireann stem the tide and even change the tide again towards Fianna Fail and regain again some type of respectable numbers? Yes we can, and the hopeful clue in all of this to me, viewing now from the sidelines, is that our loss was so catastrophic and we are so down that in fact there is a way up.
The next signpost is the local elections in June 2014. There is no point in fooling ourselves that this present government will become so unpopular that by then people will be gasping with admiration for us and longing for our return. That is the way of fairy stories, not of real life.
We cannot bask in that foolish glow of belief that success will come again to us in that seemingly effortless way.
Now, Martin and his band of 20 will begin the trek all over Ireland seeking to reignite the radicalism that led up to the Fianna Fail years of growth. I have written to Martin (from the sidelines) offering to be part of this rebuild. The party should concentrate on areas of policy where they have historically been proven to be adept and competent. Areas of education, jobs and industry and the public service and the arts.
There are people in this country who wish to see Fianna Fail emerge again from the shadows -- not to a sunlit haven, but to a realistic world of struggle and realism where we will play our proper democratic role. The trek will be long and hazardous -- and will need men and women of stout hearts.
Mary O'Rourke held a number of government ministries including Education; Health; Transport, Energy and Communications. She was a Fianna Fail TD from 1982 to 2002 and from 2007 to 2011, and also served in the Seanad. She lost her seat in the constituency of Longford-Westmeath last weekend