Fianna Fáil at decisive crossroads: Change or become irrelevant

IT is almost inevitable that Fianna Fáil would, sooner or later, reach a do-or-die crossroads after the party’s unprecedented election defeat in 2011.

It is possible to argue that another party, maybe one less in awe of its past, would have reached that point sooner than Fianna Fáil but, as events of recent days have shown, the party’s inner circle seems unable to decide whether it wants to rebuild itself in the image of its predecessors or embrace a future where its traditional cute-hoor, whatever-you’re-having-yourself culture would not find an viable audience.

The resignation of Senator Averil Power and party activist Ken Curtin may not announce the party’s arrival at that crossroads but it certainly brings that decisive moment a lot closer. Yesterday’s admission by the party’s Clare deputy and spokesperson on transport, tourism and sport Timmy Dooley that his Parliamentary Party is “male, stale and outside the Pale” adds to the impression that a day of reckoning must be at hand.

That the resignations so overshadowed the party’s longed-for Carlow Kilkenny bye-election victory, their first in a litany of bye-elections, adds to that impression.

Echoing remarks made by Ms Power on Monday Mr Curtin, who was one of the party’s leading campaigners for a marriage equality “Yes” vote in Cork, said he was “done with trying to reform the party”. He said he felt that Fianna Fáil was no longer the right fit for people with a liberal outlook and that “their voices are being drowned out by very elderly, conservative voices”. Following so quickly on the heels of Ms Power’s not-fit-for-government condemnation that may not be a nail in a coffin but it is a criticism that cannot be ignored.

That assertion may irk long-standing party members but it may have an entirely different impact on the scores of younger, fresh, untainted members we are regularly assured are waiting in the wings to carry the party forward. Indeed, the charges are so very serious that it may cause many of those who worked so hard to achieve such an impressive result at the local elections a pause for thought.

Party leader Micheál Martin may take some comfort in the fact that the great majority of his parliamentary party have publicly supported him in the skirmish following Ms Power’s resignation but if he was pragmatic, and all the evidence is that he is, he would also recognise that his parliamentary party is part, if not the main part, of the party’s problems. Mr Dooley described that cohort as “male, stale and outside the Pale”. They may not be the wild, uncontrollable backwoodsmen of old but they are hardly reflective of the Ireland that spoke so loudly last weekend either. Even more importantly they seem at least unsympathetic to the appetite for change so forcibly expressed at the ballot boxes less than a week ago. They seem turkeys unable to recognise Christmas.

Fianna Fáil will not face oblivion if it chooses to cling to the habits that served it so well in the past but it is difficult to see how it can advance, in urban Ireland especially, if it does not become more empathetic, less reliant on bombast and more reflective of the world that may be leaving the party behind.

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