A colourful diatribe against the state of Fianna Fáil from a party cumann – circulated to all TDs and some Senators – will do little to improve morale.
There are germs of truth in the howl of pain, of course, but it must also owe something to the frustration of the times, with Covid crowding in on everyone.
The Slane organisation has called for the replacement of leader Micheál Martin, suggesting he doesn’t have fire in his belly (whereas calm competence might be exactly what is needed just now).
A managerial Martin, provided he sees the vaccination programme through to a successful conclusion, could be in a very different place in a few months’ time. Quiet diligence was much appreciated in Jack Lynch, but these are days of stürm und drang.
The email letter sent to the parliamentary party even denounces “our devious Government partners”, displaying an old-style FF contempt for coalition. It may contradict the call in the same sentence for someone at the helm who will “do what is rght for our country”.
In-fighting is what would, could or will bring down the Government, and the cumann officers see no incoherence in railing to recipients of their open letter: “Our TDs and Senators are not blameless either. There is no united front.”
But the anger comes from somewhere, reflecting a kind of grief over “a party that once was great”, only to see dwindling fortunes this century, mixed with a fear for the future.
The two other parties identified in the scattergun broadside are Fine Gael and Sinn Féin. There is a widely-felt dread among the FF grassroots, if hitherto largely unspoken, the party will be pillaged from left and right at the next election.
The concern is that supporters of the self-styled Republican Party, still FF’s subtitle, having seen the Sinn Féin surge of 2020 will decide to switch to the more nationalist version of their own outlook.
As this looks like happening, the more right-of-centre among Fianna Fáil voters can only react in horror, with some stampeding towards Fine Gael as the only perceived bulwark against the Shinners.
Mary Lou McDonald’s party, having already ransacked the Labour Party’s traditional hinterland, would then be on the way to reproducing in the south what has happened in the north – a polarisation of politics, with themselves as one of the magnetic forces.
Fianna Fáil would thus fall victim to the fate of its sister party, the SDLP.
With FF fraying at both edges and down again in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll to 14pc support nationally – less than a quota in all constituencies, although the countrywide spread imbalances everything – the signs are not good.
“No matter how we feel about Sinn Féin, [and] most of us are opposed to entering Government with them, nevertheless, a more tempered approach would have served us far better,” says the letter in reflecting on the last election.
“This ill-advised and short-sighted stance lost us transfers in several constituencies and as a result we lost six to seven seats.”
Jim O’Callaghan TD, former justice spokesman, is now signalling he would adopt a softer approach to SF were he the leader, but to many voters such a flirtation remains repugnant. To this segment of Fianna Fáil’s support, Fine Gael offers a refuge.
The latest rumblings point to the angst-ridden soul-searching that must come in just over a year’s time – including whether FF needs to refresh its leadership.
And Micheál Martin’s long years at the helm might just tell against him.