Tuesday 22 October 2019

Fionnán Sheahan: Durkan’s arrival a signal of Civil War parties enhancing their All-Ireland credentials

Fine Gael will run former SDLP leader Mark Durkan in the European elections. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Fine Gael will run former SDLP leader Mark Durkan in the European elections. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Fionnán Sheahan

When he was unveiled to run for Fine Gael 30 years ago, Austin Currie was famously asked to name three streets in his new constituency of Dublin West.

The founder of the SDLP and veteran civil rights campaigner struggled with this aspect of his move south.

Posing the same question became a tradition for the announcement of subsequent parachute candidates.

His unfamiliarity with the estates and avenues of west Dublin suburbia didn’t stop Currie getting elected. He held the seat until Fine Gael’s 2002 general election meltdown. His daughter, Emer, is Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s running mate in the same constituency in the next general election.

Currie is best remembered in Fine Gael as the party’s candidate in the 1990 presidential election.

He wasn’t the party’s first choice or even their second choice for that matter.

He came a distant third in that historic election but his transfers did get Mary Robinson across the line. His then party leader Alan Dukes was heaved following of the poor showing.

Varadkar will be hoping his new recruit from the SDLP doesn’t play a role in ending his leadership of the party.

Mark Durkan now follows Currie south of the border to run as a Fine Gael candidate in the European elections in Dublin.

It’s doubtful the former SDLP leader will struggle to name three streets in the whole of Dublin city and county.

But Durkan’s prospects of election are narrow enough.

He will be the running mate for former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and very much the second name on the ballot.

However, his recruitment to Fine Gael does illustrate the Civil War parties efforts to assert their All-Ireland credentials in the wake of Brexit and the debate on a United Ireland.

Fianna Fáil has just partnered up with the SDLP.

Now Fine Gael has signed a credible nationalist community voice with a strong track record of fighting against Sinn Féin and highlighting that party's inadequacies.

Although he struggled to match the charisma and impact of his mentor, John Hume, Durkan is a hugely experienced and respected politician.

Durkan will add to the debate on a border and the future of Northern Ireland post-Brexit.

And he’s not the first figure from Northern Ireland to seek to make the transition to European politics across the border with Fine Gael.

Former Alliance Party leader John Cushnahan moved even further south and got elected in 1989, unseating Fine Gael’s sitting MEP, Prof Tom Raftery.

Fitzgerald is unlikely to be too worried about being usurped in the same manner. Fine Gael will win one seat in Dublin and be in the shake up for a second of the four. But Durkan’s campaign would have to catch fire to put them in genuine contention.

The grapevine at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis suggested the party was about to unveil a former Dublin All-Ireland footballer from the northside.

Durkan ticks a certain All-Ireland box and hails from the northside, as such, if you keep going for 130 miles after the M50.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss