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Arrogant Fianna Fáil blew great chance of transforming itself and country

Eamon Delaney


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Micheal Martin

Micheal Martin

Micheal Martin

You've got to have some sympathy for Fianna Fáil - it had its guns trained so much on its Siamese twin, Fine Gael, that it didn't see the real enemy, Sinn Féin, coming over the hill.

For four years, Fianna Fáil thought it was enough to just slag off Fine Gael and government would fall into its lap, the way it always did in our previous Tweedledum-Tweedledee system.

In the end, there were no big ideas from Fianna Fáil, no overarching vision for Ireland and our society. It was just a sense of entitlement that 'it's our turn'.

Fianna Fáil even ran its campaign old-style, with leader Micheál Martin giddily running around the country shaking hands and doing the ham act.

And getting the digs in, as European Minister Helen McEntee discovered when Mr Martin dismissed her as just an "OK" Minister for Brexit. Because, before Brexit, he explained, she was responsible only for mental health. Or something.

It was gutter stuff, and not beholden of a statesman. It took a real statesman, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, to come in and say that Ms McEntee had done an outstanding job on Brexit.

Nor did the public buy into Mr Martin's old blather. They are tired of this Punch and Judy politics, with Fianna Fáil blaming Fine Gael for everything under the sun. And vice-versa - Fine Gael flung plenty of mud as well.

For the real irony of all this squabbling is that the two parties were in a confidence-and-supply arrangement and Fianna Fáil propped up Fine Gael in government.

The public saw through that arrangement as well, which is why so many of them went for Sinn Féin. And for wherever that leads us.

But the really depressing thing was the realisation that Mr Martin hadn't really changed after all his boom-to-crash experience, and that it was still all about a desire to just get elected.

This was the party which wrecked the economy, after all - more than once. And, on the basis of its election promises and populism, there was no guarantee Fianna Fáil wouldn't endanger the public finances again.

Throughout the campaign, Mr Martin failed to explain how his party would pay for all its projected spending increases and promises. He just tetchily pointed to Fine Gael's promises - as if two wrongs make a right.

But Martin was in cabinet when the ship went down in 2010. He should know better. He has a special responsibility for moving us on from the boom-to-bust cycle and not bankrupting the Exchequer.

It was almost like our Troika experience had become a nuclear option that could always be used again.

The Troika would certainly have had a sense of déjà-vu watching our election.

It would have seen Fianna Fáil propose a SSIA-type scheme for first-time house-buyers in which the State matches their investment three to one. And so driving up prices and overheating the sector - again.

It would have seen Fianna Fáil propose a doubling of child benefit for the first month of a baby's life, missing the point entirely about rearing a child. Childcare costs come later in a sustained way, when the child has grown.

Immediately after birth, the parent - or both parents - are most likely to be with the child continuously and so do not necessarily need the extra money. So what difference would one month's fillip make? It was more gesture politics from Fianna Fáil.

Meanwhile, we were promised lots more nurses and consultants, while Fine Gael offered to push out more free healthcare and was having second thoughts on pensions.

Populism was everywhere, including of course from Sinn Féin - with bells on.

There is nothing wrong with ideas. In fact, we could have done with some.

For example, Fianna Fáil has a historical record on large-scale social housing, so why didn't it make the dramatic proposal of a new Cabra or Finglas on a greenfield site outside Dublin, where there is plenty of land? Even as a once-off building project to ease the housing crisis. But, as with the health service, Fianna Fáil was as bereft of ideas as Fine Gael was.

As for dealing with Brexit, Mr Martin slagged off Ms McEntee and yet the talent that he had waiting for us was Willie O'Dea and Éamon Ó Cuív. Fresh faces they are not. Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins, meanwhile, were on the naughty step after the Votegate controversy.

But the real problem with Fianna Fáil's campaign was its failure to stand up for middle Ireland and articulate a new and positive vision. Instead, the party continued playing tribal politics against Fine Gael, thought short-term and, more alarmingly, seemed to have learned nothing from the reckless overspending that brought the IMF to our shores.

Now that Sinn Féin is the dominant force on the horizon, has Fianna Fáil's moment come too late?

Irish Independent