Whether you regard Fianna Fáil as the Soldiers of Destiny or as the sleazy political wing of auctioneers’ and developers’ confederations it might be wise to consider issues raised at the party’s parliamentary party meeting this week when the party’s very poor performances in the recent bye-elections were analysed.
One of the issues discussed is relevant, ever more pressing, for moderate parties right across Europe.
One deputy, Longford-Westmeath’s Robert Troy, warned his colleagues that the party “will be the next SDLP” unless they become relevant. If failure to do that meant no more than the death of Fianna Fáil, or at least the pin-striped Fianna Fáil that dominated political life for decades and orchestrated economic catastrophes one after another, then that might not keep too many people awake at night but, as the demise of the SDLP has shown, when moderates are outflanked extremists prevail.
The unfortunate consequences of that realignment are alive today. Uncomfortable if not reluctant bedfellows Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party seem unable to work together in Stormont. They have had to send for adult help to resolve difficulties that, at this stage and at this remove, seem more emotional than political. The parties’ intransigence has rendered their parliament ineffective and almost irrelevant. It is not stretching the argument too far to suggest that their stonewalling may undermine the peace process.
In the face of that failure it is hard not to think that if the moderate SDLP and Ulster Unionist Party — the one the extremist Ian Paisley destroyed — were in power that the difficulties that Sinn Féin and the DUP find insurmountable would have been resolved and without outside supervision.
The goal posts are being moved in Britain too and even if UKIP would buck at being compared to the DUP or Sinn Féin their recent successes will hardly add to the stability of British politics. Those successes will force David Cameron’s Conservatives to the right and give encouragement to Euro-sceptic Tories. The rightward surge may force Liberal Democrats back to the irrelevant margins they have occupied for decades. A similar hardening, especially on economic issues and immigration, is evident in many EU countries.
The idea of a Dáil fragmented because established parties lose ground to groupings of multi-coloured independents hardly encourages confidence either and feeds into the narrative that predicts political ineffectiveness and an almost ungovernable society. This is not only an issue for Fianna Fáil as Labour and Fine Gael are equally vulnerable. Just as every cloud has a silver lining this shift in power to the margins may have one too — it may force all parties to decide which is more important, the ideas and hopes they represent or their survival as a party, even a marginalised, powerless and irrelevant one. How wonderful it would be if this move towards extremism was the midwife of a more united and stronger centre. Several years ago the late Brian Lenihan suggested that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael might have to merge. The argument for that seismic but tiny event gets stronger every day.
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