MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Fianna Fáil think-in: Don’t be fooled.... this isn’t the usual suspects

Micheal Martin with members of the Fianna Fail Parliamentary Party at the annual think-in. Picture: Conor McCabe Photography

Meet Fianna Fáil Supernova, a breath of fresh air blowing through the body politic, and not to be mistaken with the gang in power when the country collapsed, says Michael Clifford 

Thank heavens for Fianna Fáil Supernova (FFS), the latest incarnation of an old party. Right now, this country needs a party like FFS, occupying the centre-left position that best reflects the national character, pushing for an Ireland for all, repelling the forces of both populism and the right.

Fianna Fáil Supernova is a breath of fresh air blowing through the body politic. Its leader, the youthful Micheál Martin Nua, looks like a man who could drag this country in a new direction should he be elected to office.

He has about him the cut of a new kind of politician, competent in holding the Government to account, yet promising that when he gets into power, things will be different, responsible but different, better but different, fairer but different.

The agenda pursued by FFS is one that popular opinion could not take issue with. Writing in this newspaper yesterday, Mr Martin laid out how FFS will use its parliamentary position to impose a fairer Ireland than might otherwise be the case.

Fianna Fáil think-in: Don’t be fooled.... this isn’t the usual suspects

“Through our engagement with the budgetary oversight committee and through individual engagement with ministers, we will be emphasising the fairness agenda and working to restore basic decency to that budget.” That decency has been stripped by the Fine Gael dominated government since 2011, and, prior to that, 14 years of an administration led by the now defunct Old Fianna Fáil (OFF) party.

Some among you who are not fully conversant with political parties may mix up the two entities FFS and OFF, but be assured there is no relationship between the two. In fact, they are from completely different planets on the political spectrum, espousing diametrically opposed policies.

Further confusion may occur because one of the senior ministers in the OFF administrations shares a name with the current leader of FFS. But please understand that the two Micheál Martins are like chalk and cheese. Old Mr Martin was happy to kick back and enjoy the right-wing populism espoused by his party during the Celtic Tiger years. The other, Micheál Martin Nua, is a man in a hurry to enter office for the first time so that he can change the country for the better. No relation, as Micheal O’Muircheartaigh was wont to say.

Not just that, but Micheál Martin Nua has made a point of showing that he is putting the country first, ahead of his party, whereas old Mr Martin’s party repeatedly and recklessly mortgaged the country’s future for short-term political gain. Old Mr Martin disappeared in 2011, and has not been seen in public since.

So FFS wants to take the country in a new direction from the one that the OFF party fashioned over a decade a half until it was obliterated and disappeared in 2011.

Look at the difference in policy agendas. Yesterday, FFS finance spokesman Michael McGrath told Morning Ireland that his party wanted to “reshape the debate more in favour of a fair and decent society, (where) services are a higher property than giving tax cuts for the better off.” This is in complete contrast to FFS’s bete noir the OFF party, which, under Charlie McCreevy and Bertie Ahern, reshaped the political agenda into one where tax cuts was the primary article of faith, and the better off awarded the biggest cuts.

Then there is the issue of water charges. FFS is opposed to charges as a matter of principle, not just practice, but principle. Micheál Martin Nua and his colleagues are at one with their kindred spirits Richard Boyd Barrett and Paul Murphy on this score. One rumour doing the rounds last weekend was that Martin would be present at the next anti-charge rally, posing for a photo with Mr Boyd Barrett and Mr Murphy, all three shoulder to shoulder, raising clenched fists.

This will finally smash the hated charges, which first saw the light of day with a commitment to their introduction from the OFF-led administration in 2010. If only FFS had been in power back then, there would never have been a question of treating water as a precious and finite resource which should attract a charge.

Michael McGrath
Michael McGrath

Education is another area where FFS is diametrically opposed to the OFF party.

“Education is a core value of a fair and decent society,” Mr McGrath told Morning Ireland, “and always has been for Fianna Fáil.” (He didn’t specify here whether Fianna Fáil referred to FFS or OFF or some other outfit). He went on to call for major spending in education which would reflect “a fair and decent society”. This again shows how FFS is trying to save the country from the ruin visited on it by the OFF party. Back when OFF were running amok, spending on education was the fourth lowest among 31 OECD countries. In 2007, when the country was still awash with funny money, Ireland spent only 4.7%of GDP on education, when the average spend was 6.2%. Only the Czech Republic, Italy and Slovakia spent less at a time when Ireland was one of the richest countries in the world.

Now FFS wants to take education in a different direction than that which the OFF party had dragged it. Aren’t we lucky to have this new party on the scene these days?

Apart from that, what really distinguishes FFS from its rival OFF is the pursuit of fairness, as articulated by Micheál Martin Nua and his various spokespeople. FFS want to make this a fairer country than the one fashioned over the last 20 years.

Back in those halcyon days of loadsamoney, this was a deeply unequal society. EU stats from 2003-2004, when OFF was in its pomp, showed that among the then 11 EU states, only Italy and the UK were more unequal, as measured by incomes for the top one-fifth and bottom one-fifth of earners.

That was the country fashioned by OFF and Old Mr Martin, a million miles from the fair society being espoused by Micheál Martin Nua and his colleagues today.

So thank heavens for FFS. What we need today more than anything is honest politics, new politics, which is governed by unwavering principles and consistent policies. Where better to look for these qualities than this new, fresh entity, Fianna Fáil Supernova. FFS indeed.


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