There has been speculation for a considerable period of time that Fianna Fail would enter the Northern Ireland political arena, making it, after Sinn Fein, the second party to organise on an all-Ireland basis. So the news that it is to formally launch in the province this weekend is no real surprise.
However, it is a shock that the move comes apparently without the knowledge of Fianna Fail’s northern allies, the SDLP. Although the launch meeting is taking part in the heart of his constituency, veteran SDLP MP Eddie McGrady said he was unaware of the event.
It has always been surmised that if Fianna Fail did venture across the border, it would do so either through an informal alliance with the SDLP or through a formal merger of the two parties.
Indeed, it was only last year that the parties coyly hinted of closer working relationships at a breakfast meeting in the Republic. Closer ties with the |
leading party in the Republic seemed a good deal for the SDLP, giving it an opportunity to reinvigorate the party through the greater organisational machinery of Fianna Fail and, of course, its considerable wealth.
The SDLP would also gain a greater international profile through an alliance with a party which is the natural party of government in the Republic.
But the latest move raises more questions than answers. If Fianna Fail is planning to organise in Northern Ireland without any formal, or informal, ties with the SDLP, what does it hope to gain?
Although the parties may have different policies on some issues, they would both essentially be competing for the moderate nationalist vote. It is inconceivable that Fianna Fail or any other party from the Republic would gain unionist votes, nor would it seriously threaten the constituency of Sinn Fein, even if it shares the same historical roots. Indeed, Sinn Fein could welcome Fianna Fail for that very reason.
However, perhaps Fianna Fail is merely keeping its powder dry and establishing a constituency base before testing the waters electorally.
A party spokesperson says the party does not intend to contest the next General Election, nor the Assembly and local government elections in Northern Ireland expected to take place in 2011. That could give it time to create a viable political infrastructure and forge what relationships it considers beneficial.
Yet there seems no compelling reason for Fianna Fail to organise in the province. Unlike the Conservative Party’s alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party — which offers local candidates at least the potential to serve in the government of the UK — Fianna Fail could offer no such incentive.
The best anyone standing under the party banner in the province could achieve would be a seat at Stormont, a possibility already there for nationalists with the SDLP or Sinn Fein. There is one other possibility — perhaps Fianna Fail tacticians believe the SDLP cannot recover ground lost to Sinn Fein and a new, more affluent, better organised, moderate nationalist voice is needed to take on republicans.