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Fianna Fail now a party that must learn to love itself again


Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin

Once they were kings. But, as Sinn Fein basks like a well-fed domestic cat sunning itself on a patio, Fianna Fail is now a party engaged in terrified whispers about the ghostly spectre of the still living but mostly dead SDLP zombie.

Fianna Fail may be still technically ahead of Sinn Fein in the Dail and local government, but few doubt that Sinn Fein is gathering for a final lethal push.

Its modest ambition is not, for now, to replace Fianna Fail as the natural party of government. It is, instead, to assume leadership of the opposition, force Fianna Fail into an unwanted, rocky coalition with Fine Gael, and then, as they say, await developments.

Fianna Fail, meanwhile, throughout all of this, is starting to resemble the leading lady in one of those old black- and-white silent movies, tied to the train tracks, waiting for some hero to come along and rescue her .

The problem, alack, is that it is not enough in the modern world for heroines to simply lie on the tracks. In the new age of equality, they need to be proactive about it and save themselves.

So what does Fianna Fail have to do?

The most critical lacuna the party must face is that it still does not have a narrative. This might appear to be a technical, fanciful sort of a thing, but a party that does not have a story to tell about itself, resembles the unfortunate state of a body that has lost its skeleton. The good news is that narratives need not be complex.

For Sinn Fein and our Independent dolly-mixtures, the current narrative consists of nothing more complex than the delicious status of being that which the Government least wants.

In fairness, no one can say Fianna Fail has not tried to remedy this unfortunate lacuna. But, the party still resembles the man who has lost his memory after a car crash. On such sad occasions everyone will try to revive the memory of such an unfortunate individual. Ironically, however, the more you try to force our car crash victim to remember who he is, the more you irritate and confuse him.

The problem, though, is that the process must be gone through, for if you do not know who you are, then you cannot have a future. Instead, like the poor goldfish swimming around the bowl in ever-decreasing circles, you can only live in the eternal, undefined, limited present, where you have neither a future nor a past beyond going around in a bowl until the cat puts his paw in and ends the misery. As we noted earlier, Fianna Fail in that regard are trying ... very trying.

If one takes the trouble, and it would have to be on a quiet day, you will find policies on everything from wind energy, to post offices, to improving the Urban Cycling Experience.

In what we presume to be an accidental irony, there is even a policy guide to all the policies, and a policy on health which, strangely, is written by someone other than the Health Spokesperson. That, mind you, may not be the worst idea they have had.

The absence of any unifying theme, however, means that the various policies on bicycles, gays, sugar, spice and all things nice, lack any degree of purpose. They possess a similar level of danger and usefulness as ornaments on a dead Christmas tree.

Of course, if they are to secure the grand unifying theme which is needed to create the new story of Fianna Fail - as distinct from the current series of disjointed paragraphs - Fianna Fail is going to have to go back before it goes forwards.

We do not wish to nag Fianna Fail on the apology thing, for one of the defining features of politicians, oddly enough, is that they are not at all good at listening.

But their great post election error continues to consist of the failure to commission a Flannery-style report. Such a process could have been used to construct a compelling story of sin, pride, hubris, a great fall, recognition, knowledge, sorrow, atonement, regeneration and reinvention.

We understand the first nine-tenths of that process is not attractive, but it is a necessary clearing out of the dry rot prior to reinvention. And, frankly, unless the dry rot of the past is treated, the party will keep falling through the political floorboards. Once done, however, Fianna Fail can get on with the happier business of reinvention. For that to occur, though, the final myth it must slay, is the claim that there has never been a class divide in Irish politics.

In fact, Fine Gael has always been our natural Tory party, while Fianna Fail, as Bertie so cleverly divined, are on the side of the Socialists. Within the current dispensation, this means that Fianna Fail, if it is to be loyal to its natural class base, must centre all of its policies on the plight of the new working poor.

This is informed by pragmatism rather than idealism, for the working poor are the floating vote that has carried politicians of such varied hues, from Thatcher to Bertie, into government.

The pursuit of the alienated working poor is not just confined to economic theory.

Fianna Fail, in particular needs to prioritise the reality of crime, community and the evolution of the Irish state into the enemy of the citizen.

Surprisingly, despite the party's current absence of self-confidence, it is not without the personnel, such as Eamon O Cuiv, Niall Collins and John McGuinness, to achieve this aim.

In a society where the gryphon of pessimism has seized the lives of the citizen and now lies slumped, snoring on their chests, Fianna Fail must engage in one final great task.

It must stand for hope.

To do that, though, it must learn to love itself again, for a party that is just a vehicle for apologising cannot lead the Lemass-style revival in national morale we so badly need.

Sunday Independent