Why Fianna Fáil is the only sliver of light in the political darkness for Sinn Féin Féin's
Published 05/12/2015 | 02:30
Not for the first time in his life, Gerry Adams lobbed a metaphorical grenade into the political arena by leaving open a suggestion that a relationship between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil could be considered post-election.
Definitive dichotomies between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin do exist. However, they share one fundamental commonality and you do not have to scratch too far below the surface to find it.
Both political parties are hard-wired to power. It is in their DNA.
Historically, both have abandoned their principles, their policies and even their party leaders to secure it - and they will do it again.
The question now is not whether Sinn Fein's position has altered, but why it has altered.
Adams's comments herald a new conundrum for Michéal Martin and for FF campaign managers crafting a narrative for their candidates in the election. Fianna Fáil's best chance to present the party as a real political alternative is by remaining united.
There is no advantage in this debate for the soldiers of destiny. Playing both sides of the fence on this one for Fianna Fáil could easily divide the party, split votes, affect transfers and ultimately cost them precious seats.
Maximising the vote is Fianna Fáil's main ambition, a reasonable strategy that is repeated throughout the party. After that, opinions diverge. Some say the party will never ever consider a coalition with Sinn Féin. Not everyone in Fianna Fáil is on message, however, and this is gifting Fine Gael an advantage.
A growing number now proffer that waiting until after the election is a better course of action. As the election draws closer, the lure of power for some in Fianna Fáil is increasing, a temptation which they will find hard to resist. It remains to be seen whether Fianna Fáil will opt for short-term power over longer-term rehabilitation. Like a moth to the flame, some just cannot resist the warm glow of Government Buildings.
One significant factor in the changing relationship between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin has little to do with what is being played out nationally via mudslinging power plays across the airwaves. Gerry Adams telling people that Fianna Fáil wrecked the economy, and Michéal Martin reminding the electorate of Sinn Féin's past repeatedly, is a futile exercise in showmanship, nothing more.
The real problem for Fianna Fáil is that it is losing the ground war on a daily basis. The loss of over 50 seats in 2011 was the most visible and national manifestation of the demise of the FF party.
Perhaps the bigger loss was a policy of Fianna Fáil's own choosing. The traditional structure where cumann (branches) involving local party activists on the ground with local knowledge and local power, was essentially abandoned.
Since the establishment of the cumann system, party members effectively secured seats by immersing themselves in local issues; members had real power in selecting candidates and delivering seats.
Lauded for its capacity to hoover up information and votes, the reputation of the Fianna Fáil cumann was at times overstated. In truth, at any given time, the network was operating at about 50pc of its capacity. But as the old saying goes, "if you get a reputation for getting up early, you can stay in bed all day". Two or three key figures in constituencies was sometimes all it took to make a real difference.
Fianna Fáil cumainn were imposing, their effectiveness even earned the party a colloquial entitlement to be referred to as a "movement" rather than a mere political party. Such was the integration between local representatives and those that they represented.
In 2011, FF effectively emasculated the cumann structure in favour of a 'one man, one vote' policy. In doing so, it won a few headlines to ameliorate the chattering classes; but ultimately began a deeper destruction of the party's power base. Today, FF supporters are signed up - but is anybody really clued in?
This dilapidated FF local structure has created a political vacuum, particularly in middle Ireland. Enter stage left, Sinn Féin.
Speculation that Gerry Adams spoke inadvertently is simply not credible when the stakes are so high.
A more likely explanation is that, having replicated the Fianna Fáil network around the country, SF now realises that the FF voter will be more likely to transfer to Sinn Féin if there is even the slightest prospect of an alliance in the future.
Moreover, as a traditionally transfer-toxic party, Sinn Féin must present itself as more open to coalition and cooperation. As a party based currently on protest, not policy, SF cannot cosy up to Government parties while attacking them, so for SF members, FF is the only sliver of light in the political darkness.
Like it or not, politics is a numbers game. As the numbers continue to cement Fine Gaels probable return to Government, Sinn Féin is looking around for other options. Mary Lou would make a nice Tánaiste, perhaps? The prospect is not entirely unreasonable based on current opinion poll averages. With Fianna Fáil at around 23pc and Sinn Féin on 20pc, that is a government in waiting. Paddy Power is currently offering odds of 12 to one for a Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin post-election government.
Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. They just cannot help themselves. Not to consider the possibility of government together means these political leopards would not only have to change their spots, they need to reverse their DNA.