John Downing: So, FF's back from the dead but do we need it?
Published 19/11/2012 | 05:00
LATEST medical reports show that the patient, Fianna Fail, yesterday sat up in the hospital bed and had a small breakfast of tea, toast and half a lightly-boiled egg.
After 21 months in the political intensive care unit, the Soldiers of Destiny just might – and we stress might – be over the worst.
Another opinion poll has delivered encouraging news to Micheal Martin & Company. Fianna Fail still contains politicians of considerable ability and they are clearly conducting the daily business of politics with skill and guile.
But a bigger question looms: now that Enda Kenny's Fine Gael is showing all the signs of successfully moving into that old ideology-free, catch-all Fianna Fail-space, do we really need a second party doing much the same thing?
Yes, we know there are the Civil War origins and the odd culturally important detail. Traditionally, you often got a better class of chancer in Fine Gael.
Overall, however, it may not be entirely coincidental that there is only one digit, and one alphabetical space, between the abbreviations FF and FG.
Differentiating between the two political parties has always been a tall order. Famously, long-time Fianna Fail stalwart Sean Lemass used to say rather pithily: "The difference is that we're in and they're out."
The English writer, comedian and Labour true-believer, John O'Farrell, in his uproarious book, 'Things Can Only Get Better', recalls being given a more scatological summation late one night in a pub in Killorglin, Co Kerry. "It's the difference between sh*t and sh*te," an ould fella told O'Farrell.
In February 2011, Irish voters almost annihilated Fianna Fail. With only 17pc of the vote, the party returned 20 TDs, only one of whom was in Dublin. Among the previously unthinkable facts was that many constituencies had no Fianna Fail TD. The tragic death of Brian Lenihan in May 2011 deprived the party of any Dail presence from the capital.
Yesterday's Behaviour & Attitudes survey for 'The Sunday Times' continues an encouraging trend for Fianna Fail shown in other polls done for RedC and Ipsos/MRBI in recent weeks. The latest finding confirms FF as the second party, eight percentage points ahead of rivals Sinn Fein and 10 points clear of Labour.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has a personal satisfaction rating of 42pc. It is his most positive showing since the general election carnage when he was party leader and, in unhappily bizarre circumstances, his very recent predecessor, Brian Cowen, was in hiding as Taoiseach at Government Buildings.
The party's upswing comes largely at the expense of Sinn Fein, which is now ranked on 14pc. That is still well ahead of its last general election result, which put it on its best ever 10pc of the poll and 14 TDs.
The results also suggest that FF continues to claw back ground from Labour, which is down two points to 12 and way down from its 19pc vote share in the last general election.
The survey finding again points up party leader Eamon Gilmore's need to be seen to achieve something in the current abortion controversy and the forthcoming Budget now just two weeks and two days away.
The survey shows Fianna Fail is now rated the most popular political party in Dublin. That is a considerable change and may bode well for the future in an area where there will be 44 Dail seats out of 158 in the new Dail.
The survey shows Fine Gael and Enda Kenny doing spectacularly well. The party remains on 30pc and down just one point, while Mr Kenny is on 41pc, fractionally behind the new star, Mr Martin.
FINE Gael has long presented itself as "the alternative to Fianna Fail". And most of the time the voters showed that they did not really want that alternative.
In the run-in to the last general election, Fianna Fail reaped the whirlwind, having led us to boom and then swiftly back to bust.
Fine Gael was spared further self-defining philosophical angst by the spectacular implosion of its old Civil War rivals.
Twenty-one months ago, Mr Kenny and his confederates did not have to go to too much trouble defining the differences between themselves and their major adversaries. But now the word is back from the political clinic, with good news about the health of Fianna Fail.
It is a good opportunity to ask ourselves: what is the difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail? More significantly, do we need two parties doing much the same thing?
The singular difference now is that the onus has been reversed and it falls to Fianna Fail to tell us what it is about and what makes it different. Despite everything, we still appear to like and want Fianna Fail – but it would be good to understand why.