THIS time last year, people voted in great numbers to eject Fianna Fail from office. The result was a landslide against arguably the most successful political party in western Europe.
It was unprecedented in the history of a party that had dominated Irish politics for so long. Given the scale of the incompetence it showed and the mess it left behind, people rightly believe that Fianna Fail should be banished from office for a generation. Even that might be too short. Forever more, Fianna Fail will always be known as the party that brought this country to its knees.
The obvious political difficulty that Fianna Fail faces right now is nothing by comparison to the misery it has caused. For too long, it symbolised the very worst in Irish politics. Of course, it was too long in office. But my colleagues and I would be foolish to write off Fianna Fail. It's too early to write its obituary. And anyway, even if we could, would that write-off be in the interests of Irish democracy?
We sometimes take our democracy for granted. Irish people forget that our democracy is, in fact, the fourth oldest continuous democracy in Europe. Unlike other European countries, we didn't go the way of fascist Europe in the Thirties and Forties. Great credit is due to that post-independence generation. Despite the bitterness of the civil war, once it ended, a strong parliamentary democracy emerged. Those who lost the civil war were in office within 10 years and from that day, the State came of age.
The choice between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael over the years provided a type of safe change option for the Irish people at every election. Yes, the centre ground was crowded, yes, the differences between the two biggest parties were always difficult to understand from the European eye, but the outcome was a moderate politics built from the wreckage of the civil war.
So if Fianna Fail is now to be replaced as the alternative, who would take its place? Has its demise provided an opportunity for those who present themselves as the "new politics"? The rise of Sinn Fein, in the polls at least, is a salutary warning that old politics might well be on the march again.
Whatever can be said of Fianna Fail, the stance taken by Micheal Martin on the fiscal compact has demonstrated an understanding of what's in the interests of Ireland. On this issue, Fianna Fail has put the country first.
Can the same be said for Sinn Fein? It sees the upcoming referendum as just another opportunity. The peace process was the same. Progress could only be made when Sinn Fein was ready to move, everyone else had to wait. As Pat Rabbitte correctly remarked at the time, the peace process was more to do with the Sinn Fein process as it cannibalised the SDLP. I have no doubt but that Sinn Fein has the same designs on Fianna Fail.
Revolutionary movements, either from the hard left or the hard right, or indeed of the neo-nationalist variety in the case of Sinn Fein, work on the basis of slow incremental conflict, picking off parties as they go.
Never forget what Danny Morrison said in 1981. The armalite and ballot box strategy is well known. But Morrison made it plain then that this strategy was simply a means to an end. "Our ambition is to take control throughout the island of Ireland," he boldly proclaimed in 1981. Like all revolutionary movements, Sinn Fein has no difficulty playing the long game. It's a road that many fanatics have travelled.
We are told that new Sinn Fein is unlike old Sinn Fein. New people have been elected as Sinn Fein TDs who were never responsible for killing people. They represent the new politics. That doesn't stop them distorting the past and failing to confront the murder machine that was the IRA.
The old politics of the new Sinn Fein was brought home to me in a recent radio programme in which I was taking part with Mary Lou McDonald. The Sinn Fein deputy was correctly making the point that violence against women in Irish society is an issue that needs to be discussed openly.
But how could a Sinn Fein TD make such a point when the party refused to accept or condemn the violence inflicted by the IRA over many years. She made that point without reference to Jean McConville, Caroline Moreland or Joanne Mathers. As if these murders didn't happen. Violence that to this day she and others within Sinn Fein cannot say was a crime. No abject apology here. No sense of unbelievable hypocrisy. As if we can just move along and put the IRA's criminality record to one side while Sinn Fein presents itself as something new.
Have you noticed the fancy footwork of Sinn Fein since the last election? Before the election, it promised to show the Troika the door. There was no need for the assistance of the lender of last resort --under Sinn Fein, Ireland would paddle its own canoe. Well, all has changed. Now it is happy to keep the money, but would negotiate better terms than the Government, or so it would have you believe. And all of this would happen without cutbacks and tax rises.
Another sign that it is moving in for the kill on Fianna Fail is the deliberate silencing of Gerry Adams. The shriller angry young voices have also been tamed as the MBA set within Sinn Fein do all the repositioning. All the signs are that the hunt for 'middle Ireland' is on.
We need a new Sinn Fein like a hole in the head. It is out for itself and its brand of revolution. Never forget what Morrison said, the agenda is about taking control throughout the island of Ireland. We need to learn the lesson of what happened north of the Border. Watch out, FF. Watch out, Irish democracy.
Brian Hayes TD is Minister of State at the Department of Finance