Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Fianna Fáil announces plans to fight Northern Ireland elections... but watch this space

Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin
Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin

Fianna Fáil’s 75th Ard Fhéis happened last weekend.

The party formed after a split from Sinn Féin in 1926. For several years after its formation, many of its members were encouraged to hold dual membership as IRA volunteers. 

The Fianna Fáil leadership used this incongruous relationship with the IRA to grow the organisational base of the new Party, and eventually went into government in the 29 counties in 1932.

It claimed the title of the Republican Party, but never tried to organise nationally, nor did it ever develop a strategy to achieve Irish national democracy, or independence.  These have been characteristics of the party throughout the last 75 years of its existence.

Instead, its leadership relied upon populism, republican rhetoric, and clientelism to build up a political hegemony in the southern state.  All of that led to Fianna Fáil becoming the largest Party in the South.

Fianna Fáil was central to shaping the conservative ethos, which defined the nature of the southern state.

However, history caught up with the party at the 2011 general elections. It was punished heavily by the electorate for its mismanagement in government, and causing the banking crisis and resulting economic crash.

Since then it has been trying to reinvent itself. One part of that has included negative attacks upon Sinn Féin, in reaction to this party’s growing electoral support in the south.

Now Fianna Fáil has announced an intention to contest northern elections from 2019.

By then, it will be 80 years old.  That is a decision which rings hollow given the recent Ard Fhéis only debated six motions on the north, and lumped in along with Foreign Affairs.

If Fianna Fáil is really serious, it has a lot to prove.

As a party in government it failed to oversee full implementation of the key agreements for which it was co-guarantor.

Other questions also arise for Fianna Fáil:  does it agree with welfare cuts here?

Will it support the introduction of a border poll?

Did it even make a submission to the Haass talks process?

There is a national realignment of politics underway in Ireland, and Fianna Fáil should be part of that.

While its leadership has a legacy of failure in government and caused much economic hardship for those least able to cope, this belated nod toward becoming a national party is to be welcomed.  But…watch this space.

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