Monday 24 October 2016

The irony is Fianna Fail will also rise as economy lifts

Micheal Martin has skilfully brought the party back to its roots, where it remains fixed in the DNA of the country, writes Jody Corcoran

Published 26/04/2015 | 02:30

Micheal Martin has skilfully brought the party back to its roots, where it remains fixed in the DNA of the country
Micheal Martin has skilfully brought the party back to its roots, where it remains fixed in the DNA of the country

The question is not so much whether people are ready to forgive Fianna Fail, but whether they are willing to get past what has been called their "primitive hatred of government".

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Fianna Fail was founded in 1926 and has been in government 61 of the 79 years since, 13 times as a minority government or in coalition.

Throughout that period Ireland has moved from a poor and rural, deeply conservative Roman Catholic country to become urbanised, industrialised, hi-tech, one of the leading economies in Europe, and on the verge of voting for same-sex marriage.

If Fianna Fail is to be blamed for much that has gone wrong in that period, virtually since the foundation of the State, up to and including the great crash from which we are now emerging, then it must also be recognised for much that has gone right - and on the whole there has been much.

Fine Gael is also to be so blamed and praised too, in relative equal measure, as is Labour, for it is these parties - what Sinn Fein and the far Left call 'the Establishment' - but mostly Fianna Fail, which have been on the receiving end of what the German academic Thorsten Volberg described, in a study of how Fianna Fail has adapted since 1945, as that "primitive hatred of government".

There are indications that that hatred is lessening, now that the country is emerging from what was not quite a lost decade.

So how much has really changed in that period of time? Probably not enough to meet the standard of radical change that was required, but enough to reboot and start again and, in all likelihood, to fail better next time.

As the country stands on the cusp of a new beginning, the tentacles of the great crash continue to reach in and drag back, or remind people yearning to embrace the future, just why they so instinctively distrust, or hate government as we have come to know it.

Fine Gael was founded in 1933 and has been in government whenever Fianna Fail was not, that is, for almost two decades.

Both parties are embedded in the national DNA, and will so remain.

Their origins go back to the foundation of the State, after all. In fact, some historians have argued further than that, back to the different traditions linked to the arrival in Ireland of Anglo-Norman and new English to collide with the 'native' Gaelic people.

It is not that easy to leave behind all of that, hundreds of years of tradition associated with both parties, which found themselves subject to a form of primitive hatred again last week.

The well-source of the emotion this time can be distilled to the fallout from two late-night decisions - Fianna Fail's decision to guarantee the banks, admittedly the biggie, and Fine Gael's decision to liquidate the former Anglo Irish Bank.

Answers to questions related to both decisions are still required.

But while we wait, it is instructive to realise that both parties have the support of almost half of the electorate and, come what may, one or other, or both, will find themselves in government next time too, depending to what extent people are prepared to look at the big picture: so much for radical change then.

The big picture relates to what happens next, now that the country is starting to canter, when finally the tentacles of the great crash stop reaching in to stir the swirling emotions of the people.

Those emotions have already given rise to the emergence of Sinn Fein - or, as Micheal Martin has said, "the party that calls itself Sinn Fein" - as a significant political power, with its recent bloody history, the orchestrators of which are evident, still fresh in the living memory of people of certain generations.

And also to the emergence of the far left as a raucous but, for all that, no less legitimate voice which has driven, by popular support, much of whatever change has taken place.

That popular mood - anger is probably the best word - is softening though, which should come as no surprise as the economy lifts and people return to their daily affairs with something more of a spring in their step and the promise of a few quid in their pocket.

The great irony is that as the economy lifts under the stewardship of Fine Gael and Labour, on a plan drawn up by Fianna Fail, so too will the fortunes of Fianna Fail rise, just as the cause and effect of austerity has damned them all too.

If nothing else, 'the Establishment', or its majority supporters, show every sign of sticking together.

The new political powers which have emerged, but as yet have not congealed on the left, will find themselves not crushed by 'the Establishment' but bettered by them again this time, or at least until the turn of the decade. It's called democracy, or more accurately, proportional representation.

What happens after that will depend on what happens next. Fianna Fail is far from finished, however. You do not wipe out the DNA of a country that easily. But it will never again be the powerhouse of old, a national movement, the spirit of the nation, or whatever, which is just as well.

A year out from the election, it is not even certain that Fine Gael will displace Fianna Fail as the lead party in what will inevitably turn out to be another hated government.

Fine Gael is "too right wing" Micheal Martin repeated this weekend, as he sought to underline his re-positioning of Fianna Fail as a party of the centre.

After five regressive budgets, and widened inequality, but after manoeuvring the country to a position better than it was in, Fine Gael can be assured of the continued support of the many who have had a relatively comfortable recession.

The question is where will go the support of those who aspire to do better, the once large middle class now reduced, now that the people are allowing themselves to emerge from the gloom.

A proportion will go to Sinn Fein and the far left, the arbiters of change - that is, those who have yet to feel the lift and eventually will only do so again relative to how it has always been - trickled down, unequal before the eyes of the hardened form of capitalism which have emerged from this crisis.

But only a fool would write off Fianna Fail. The party this weekend laid out its stall. In the manner of these things, it was a seductive pitch, back to its roots, enough I would say to move it from where it was before this ard fheis, which is to say not unforgiven but from a position where it had come to be regarded with indifference. That has changed.

To sum up, Fianna Fail is back in the game.

Sunday Independent

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