Wednesday 19 June 2019

Silly season spooks a foolish FF stampede

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Last weekend saw the start of the political silly season. Spooked by a few carefully targeted media questions, gullible Fianna Fail and Labour politicians began a charge towards the cliffs.

Alex White of Labour, feeling the cold wind in his constituency, called for a pre-election pact with Fine Gael.

Such a pact would be bad for both parties. Apart from blurring their separate identities, each party would get the blame for the bad stuff done by the other in government.

But as always, Fianna Fail provided the richest pickings for a mischievous media. That's because the party has two factions in love with three fictions.

The two factions are Green Fianna Fail and Humble Fianna Fail. Green Fianna Fail believes in the first fiction - that the party could go into government with Sinn Fein and survive.

Humble Fianna Fail believes in the second fiction: that Fianna Fail can go into government with Fine Gael as a junior party and survive.

Both Green Fianna Fail and Humble Fianna Fail subscribe to the final fiction: that Fianna Fail should tell the media before a general election how it would form a government after a general election.

Last Monday, Green Fianna Fail was first out of the traps. John McGuinness, Eamon O Cuiv and Colm Keaveney told Daniel McConnell of the Irish Independent that yes, they would consider going into government with Sinn Fein.

Pity they don't go all the way and form a new party called Foolish Fianna Fail.

Because within two days, the shooting of Kevin McGuigan reminded them of the perils of sharing power with a party linked to a Provo past.

Does Green Fianna Fail not realise that the Provos' past crimes would keep cropping up if they shared power with Sinn Fein?

Does it think the Mairia Cahills, the McCartney sisters, the families of Tom Oliver and Paul Quinn will give up their search for justice ?

Does Green Fianna Fail not understand that a shared umbilical cord with Sinn Fein would finish off Fianna Fail in Middle Ireland?

A party sharing power with Sinn Fein must cope with the Errol Flynn factor.

An old Hollywood adage said: "You could always depend on Errol, he would always let you down."

Likewise, Sinn Fein will let any partner down. Cabinet meetings would consist of stuffing Sinn Fein skeletons back in the closet.

That is why Micheal Martin has so firmly ruled out doing a deal with Sinn Fein. And Middle Ireland is reassured by what it sees as his moral stance.

Fine Gael handlers are well aware that this "Jack Lynch line" Martin has taken on Sinn Fein is part of why he is the most popular party leader.

That was why Simon Harris was so fast to attack the flank exposed by Green Fianna Fail, telling us, "A vote for Fianna Fail at the next general election could be a vote for Sinn Fein."

Finally, and even more foolishly, Green Fianna Fail added a face-saving clause: that Gerry Adams should step down to ensure a smooth path to coalition.

Yes, we can all see Sinn Fein dumping Adams so McGuinness, Keavney and O Cuiv can get junior Cabinet posts.

Junior posts also seem perfectly acceptable to Humble Fianna Fail, the second group in that party to provide fodder for the pundits last week.

Michael McGrath humbly told Fiach Kelly of the Irish Times that he would be happy to share power with Fine Gael as the junior partner.

At least McGrath is not a member of Green Fianna Fail. In fact, he sometimes seems not to be in Fianna Fail at all.

A small but significant sign of his semi-detached position came when Pat Rabbitte made his cheap jibe at Marc MacSharry.

Far from keeping a game face, McGrath jovially joined the lickspittle laughing. Watching, I mentally noted that those going into the political woods with him might soon find themselves alone.

But how would McGrath and Humble Fianna Fail fare as a junior partner with Fine Gael? The stark history of junior partners shows it would be committing political suicide.

But apart from being bad for Fianna Fail, a junior partnership would be also bad for Irish democracy as it would inevitably soon put Sinn Fein in power.

Fine Gael handlers don't care about the damage this might do to Irish democracy, judging by Fiach Kelly's succinct summary of their strategy.

"Many in Fine Gael would like to have Fianna Fail as junior partner in government, thus establishing themselves as the natural party of power. Fianna Fail would have to accept a reduced status in a fully fledged coalition, leaving the main duty of opposition to Sinn Fein and supplying it with a springboard to eventually become the lead party in a government."

Still channelling Fine Gael spindoctors, Kelly asked the following question. "If Fianna Fail rules out going into power with either Sinn Fein or Fine Gael, as Martin has done, then what is the point of voting for it?"

Let me try to answer that as someone who does not care whether Fianna Fail or Fine Gael form the next government, providing that (a) Sinn Fein is frozen out and that (b) Sinn Fein is not left as the sole opposition.

Accordingly, Martin's strategy of ruling out coalition with Sinn Fein, or with Fine Gael as a junior partner, is perfectly sound for two reasons.

First, it ensures that Sinn Fein is frozen out of government - if FG keeps to its declared position.

Second, why should Martin help Enda Kenny form a government without getting equal status in any coalition with Fine Gael ?

If that's not acceptable to Fine Gael it will have to form a government with what's left of Labour plus a posse of Independents, or govern as a minority. Good luck with that.

Any such frail FG government would fall long before 2018, leaving FF the largest opposition party, and possibly the largest party.

In sum, Martin's strategy of waiting to see what the electorate wants is sensible and democratic.

What is not democratic is the new pundit piety which says the main parties should announce their potential alliances in advance of a general election.

Apart from the arrogance of assuming how people might vote in a few months time, this is nothing more than a plan for a political closed shop.

Citing other European countries is not convincing. They don't have to deal with a party with murky links to a paramilitary past - and possibly a paramilitary present.

This is a republic. People vote for parties, persons and policies. Then the Dail decides. That's democracy.

Sunday Independent

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