FIANNA FAIL is grabbing the headlines again. Many opponents of the party wonder why anyone might care, but the party still has a reasonable vote of 16pc according to polls and whatever disasters may have struck the party, it is clear that it has not affected its penchant for drama and intrigue. At a time when all other parties seem united and assiduously avoid splits, FF continues to provide lessons for students of politics everywhere.
These days, however, it is more a case of lessons in how not to do things. Every time FF begins to see even the slightest ray, it finds itself dragged back into the darkness. Last August it was the Presidential election mess. Now it is thanks to Eamon O’Cuiv.
Both events have a similar root cause. A decision on presidential candidates, and the possible backing of Gay Byrne, followed by the decision not to run a candidate was taken without consultation with the wider organisation.
Many FF TDs decided on their position without even meeting their local organisation. A sub-committee decision ensured debate was limited. This time it was decided Fianna Fail would back the Fiscal Compact Treaty. Would it have been so bad for Micheál Martin to have asked his TDs to consult with their organisation, then have a debate on the treaty, allow those opposed make their point and take a democratic vote on it?
Decisiveness is not about just naming what side you are on, it is equally decisive to change the way such decisions are reached and to show you are unafraid of losing or hearing alternative arguments.
Eamon O’Cuiv has form on this. He and Sile De Valera both led the Eurosceptic charge in FF during the first Nice referendum. The De Valera family still has a hankering for the views of its founder. The idea that small nations don’t get embroiled in the affairs of larger ones, the idea that Ireland can be a self sufficient country and is better off left to its own devices.
This brings a deep suspicion of Europe and its influence on the Irish state. Éamon O’Cuiv also has designs on the leadership of FF; there can be no doubt about that. His move this week damages the party before a vital Ard Fheis; therefore even some who might agree with his motives will be annoyed and uneasy about his timing.
Micheál Martin must deal with the issue strongly and he will have plenty of support as the party delicately gathers itself together. May have believed that Fianna Fail is a strongly pro-European party. Recent studies have questioned this however. Fianna Fail’s support among membership for the EU is trailed closely by scepticism about it and a suspicion of the motives of other countries. There are many in its ranks that are very ill at ease with the federalist direction Europe seems to be taking.
The months ahead look like being no less interesting for observers of the political process. O’Cuiv has laid down a marker. Micheál Martin will overcome this for now, but the question is can he continue to overcome such problems? There will be more decisions to be taken; there will be more questions if the party fails to show any upward trend in the polls. O’Cuiv is an alternative leader now and these days with only 19 TDs in the party, you only need to convince nine people to install yourself as leader.
One thing is clear, Fianna Fail still lacks strategists capable of plotting a longer term course and capable of seeing the dangers within their own ranks and dealing with them. Micheal Martin should have made it a priority to install people who could do that, that failure may yet cost him dearly.
On the other hand, he should find some sympathy among the party at large this weekend and they will trust him once more, hoping that he has a post Ard Fheis plan for dealing with all these issues.
In the meantime while they wait, the rest of the country is moving on and the other parties are all busy getting on with their job.
Johnny Fallon is a political commentator and Author of ‘Dynasties Irish Political Families’