Thursday 29 September 2016

Dev Og, the strange prophet, lays it on the line for leader

So will FF finally heed Eamon O'Cuiv when he warns that the party has no political clothes asks John Drennan

Published 05/04/2015 | 02:30

Eamon O Cuiv
Eamon O Cuiv

It is perhaps a measure of where Fianna Fail are that a poll showing they are neither going backwards nor forwards is not such a bad thing.

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It is, alas, unlikely that the poll will stop the ongoing process where many teeth are being sunk into the Dear Leader's perfect posterior.

Whether the teeth belong to piranhas or pinkeens has yet to be determined, but one of the frisky fish that Micheal will be keeping a particularly close eye on is Eamon O Cuiv.

Though they are for now friends, or to put it more accurately, working colleagues again, it is perhaps somewhat typical of Micheal Martin's leadership style that his attack on those TDs, whoever they might be, who were displaying a juvenile sense of discipline occurred after one of his perceived chief critics, Eamon 'Dev Og' O Cuiv, had left the party meeting.

Others would, of course, claim that it was also typical of the elusive political style of a de Valera that Mr O Cuiv was not around for Micheal's belated Una Voce, Una Duce moment.

The words from Mr Martin were certainly strong, but strong words are generally signifiers of strong concern.

Suddenly, at the worst of times, the fire is getting dangerously hot beneath the Dear Leader's fragrant feet.

The party are currently running at zero out of six in by-elections held under the wing of the second most unpopular government in the history of the state.

Should they not win what is the political equivalent of a home game in Carlow-Kilkenny, the view must be that FF is still in Anyone but Fianna Fail country.

Worse still, just as we enter the final laps of the 5,000 metres election race, FF appears to becoming ever so slightly detached from the front runners.

They are not in danger of suffering the 2011 style embarrassment of being lapped, but Micheal's puffing troops need to make up the 50-metre gap that has suddenly appeared.

Of course, last week, Fianna Fail united, in public anyway, around the coughing Dear Leader as Eamon 'Dev Og' O Cuiv was dismissed as 'a bit of a strange prophet'.

On one level, the dismissal was somewhat curious for it is kind of de rigueur for prophets to be strange.

The problem with prophets is not so much the curiosity factor, as whether they might be accurate or not.

It takes scant prophetic ability to predict now that Fianna Fail is in trouble beyond trouble.

But, back just before Fianna Fail reached lift off under Bertie in 1996, 'Dev Og' issued a curious warning about future dangers.

In a history of the party, O Cuiv told the ''lovely true story'' about an aged woman who refused a lift in favour of walking several miles into town to vote for Eamon de Valera because "this is the last time I will ever be able to vote for Eamon de Valera and I am going to do it the hard way".

The new Bertie pragmatists chuckled at the dated sentimentality of it all, but a sting in the tail arrived via Dev Og's warning at the conclusion that if Fianna Fail ever lost the 'unique spirit' that drove this woman, they would become just another ordinary little party.

There is always, you see, a sting in the tale when it comes to O Cuiv's outwardly fanciful dissertations.

No-one is certainly laughing in Fianna Fail now over the concept of FF, less than a decade after they won their third election in a row, becoming an ordinary little party.

Those, whose relationship with Micheal Martin resembles the Bird O'Donnell and the Bull Mc Cabe in JB Keane's The Field, are still attempting to denigrate that 'mad eccentric from the West'.

But, like Goldsmith's famous poem about the dog that bit the man, could they be the ones who are fatally out of date?

One of the more intriguing contradictions when it comes to the man who resembles, outwardly, some form of nutty professor, Dev Og sees far further ahead of the political chessboard than most of his smarter colleagues.

Despite the bespectacled professorial appearance, he was able to take out Maire Geoghegan-Quinn despite her status as the most formidable Irish female politician of any generation.

And despite the innocent appearance, he was rough and tough enough to see out the Machiavellian court of Bertie and the Jacobean dramas of Mr Cowen's fall.

By contrast, today's frontbench paper tigers that laugh at Dev Og's dark prophecies struggled to become committee chairs.

Ironically, whilst Dev Og is accused of being backwards looking, he is one of the few FF TDs that is warning a party trading heavily on the desire for a return of the good old days that "if you are only in FF out of nostalgia, that will not drive the recovery".

O Cuiv has also been far more prescient than his colleagues in recognising how efficiently Sinn Fein are using the same tactics as Fianna Fail in an attempt to replace FF as the dominant party of the centre.

The strength of Sinn Fein, as O Cuiv sees it, is that "they watch everything we did 30 years ago and copy it. If they have 50 people against an issue, they will book a room that fits 30 so it looks more over-crowded".

Though he has been branded with the political mark of Cain, known as being soft on SF, his concern is that Sinn Fein is fatally poised to gazump FF by filling the current "gaping hole in the centre".

Fianna Fail may once, under Bertie 'the Socialist', have been railed against by sources as diverse as the PDs, Labour and FF, for their cheek in stealing the clothes of these parties and presenting them in a FF guise.

Today, however, O Cuiv warns that "a lot of our vote has migrated now to Sinn Fein in the absence of us putting forward a dynamic programme".

When it comes to the actual solution to these problems, Mr O Cuiv is as opaque as his legendary grandfather.

He warns that "time is now running out for Fianna Fail. We have to shift ourselves. We need a very radical plan and soon, certainly within the next four or five months. Anything else will be seen as puerile electioneering".

But what the plan might actually be is unclear beyond the view that "this is not a time for caution. Fortune favours the brave".

He is somewhat clearer, mind you, on what the long-term consequences for Fianna Fail of second-class citizen status.

He warns that "if you get stuck as the party who is permanently not the ­biggest party, then you face the ­horrendous dilemma, if you ­desire to get into government, of being the minority party".

That, he warns, would represent the death-knell of the Fianna Fail that was founded to be representative of a broad swath of the electorate.

And were that to happen, nothing would more ­effectively "facilitate the growth of Sinn Fein as the absolutely dominant party of opposition and then of government".

O Cuiv is certainly a man of contradictions.

Ironically, the greatest contradiction of all that he is currently experiencing is that the grandson of Fianna Fail's first Emperor is the child now warning the current ailing Fianna Fail Emperor that it is forgetting to put its clothes on every morning.

Sadly, the indications for now is that this particular Emperor and his court are suffering from a hearing deficit in this regard.

FACTFILE:

NAME: Eamon O Cuiv

AGE: 64

POSITION: Fianna Fail agriculture spokesperson

IN THE NEWS BECAUSE: His warning about Fianna Fail's ongoing political malaise has stirred up a hornet's nest that is proving very difficult to control. For now, he and Micheal are friends again, but no-one knows how long that will last

Sunday Independent

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