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By St Etienne
Two years ago Fianna Fail registered as a political party with the UK Electoral Commission. While nothing more than a fringe entity for the time being, I feel a wider debate is needed on the impact of adding this particular brand of nationalism to NI politics.
For one, the step marks the departure of FF from their somewhat token ‘joint-government’ neutrality stance. No longer can the party claim to play an effective part in any bilateral arrangements, as they are now one of the protagonists within NI itself.
The Conservative and Unionist New Force has been the centre of much debate within unionist circles. Many commentators have speculated on a seemingly analogous linkup between the SDLP and Fianna Fail. In reality such an arrangement would be highly contradictory, especially so for the Social Democratic and Labour Party.
In the South, Fianna Fail are a ruthlessly populist party. They stand for whatever they think the major voting blocs want to hear. In practice this means a kind of cartel like agreement between themselves and the civil service over pay increases (Bertie Ahern received 26 pay increase in 10 years leading him to larger salary than George Bush), a disturbingly close relationship with the Catholic Church and raising the issue of the RoI football team at important meetings with other heads of state.
Crucially it is their treatment of minorities that most within the SDLP would find untenable. Hardest hit from the latest fire sale budgetary cuts in education for example are the most vulnerable in southern society – Protestant schools and special needs pupils. The amount of money saved is paltry but you tend not to lose many votes on them – Fianna Fail’s raison d’être. The dark underbelly of this wilful negligence on minorities is highlighted by it’s delivery – a Protestant education representative was told by civil servants their schools ‘would be got at’ as revenge for a court case against the government the previous year.
So in the final analysis I would conclude an outright merger to be unlikely, with Fianna Fail’s policies (or lack of) the primary stumbling block for any SDLP interested in, well S, D and L. In any case, the adoption last month of their first MLA representation in the Assembly has maybe made that argument irrelevant. Especially so with the character they chose to do business with: Gerry McHugh.
Gerry McHugh is an old sweat nationalist – an ex-Shinner who espouses an unrelenting paranoia against all things MI5 and spookish – who seemingly fell out with SF over their support for policing. Curious then that he believes Fianna Fail to be a safe haven for this kind of outdated thinking.
But then so much about the Soldiers of Destiny is outdated.
When Fianna Fail set up two political societies in our Belfast and Londonderry universities – they chose to name them after United Irishmen, one killed at the hands of state forces and the other a poet who wrote about same. This is a powerful statement of Fianna Fail’s attitude to Irish ‘unity’ in general and ‘the North’ in particular – an attitude built on the unmistakeable whiff of atavistic bloodlust. Where FF to have developed a better grounding in good government and policy over the past 90 years perhaps this would not be so. But it is clear they have not moved on.
Thus we have an external nationalist voice parachuted in with all the trappings of 1916 and previous. The 30 year Troubles is a void on the minds of the Fianna Fail electorate. Nationalism for them is not Gerry Adams and John Hume, it’s Patrick Pearse and Michael Collins. The myriad of reappraisals and argument/counter-argument such deep-set disconnects would inevitably create is the last thing we in Northern Ireland need as we try to bridge the gap between ourselves – the gap that is widest and the one that matters.
There is also a curious subplot in all of this – just how does a populist party sell it’s plans for nationalistic island domination to it’s home electorate when a large part of said body are openly hostile to ‘wasting time’ on the northern pipe dream? Indeed Dublin declined to put their official blessing on McHugh, unlike the United Irishmen, not the right kind of militant to be honoured with recognition.
What we are looking at then is the rise of a party largely ignorant of the ideals of the GFA – that Northern Irishman work with fellow Northern Irishman for our own nascent country – not a rose-tinted view on ancient violent ‘freedom’ or some other arcane irrelevance in today’s world. I believe we need a better system of governance here long term and yes, to do that we need better political organisations. Fianna Fail is not one of them.