From Irish Political Review: October 2007
On September 16th. the Sunday Independent reported that Fianna Fáil is to set up "a committee under the chairmanship of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern to seriously explore the idea of advancing Fianna Fail as a political party into the North". It quoted the Minister as saying:
"After May 8, and in the context of the Northern Ireland executive up and running, we are looking at the option of Fianna Fail becoming an all-Ireland, 32-county party."
Dermot being the third most senior Fianna Fail politician, I think we can take it that the matter is finally done and dusted. But as ever the devil is in the detail and the detail is as ever devilish.
"The idea of Fianna Fail setting up in the North has been raised at the last two Fianna Fail ard fheiseanna, and also in that context, a merger with the SDLP has been suggested before.
"At this early stage, it is thought that as a first step the establishment of a Friends of Fianna Fail organisation in the North is being looked at.
"But the issue of contesting elections in the North is a long way off, and described by sources as "not even on the agenda at the moment."
"Fianna Fail will, however, be looking, in the short-term, at aligning itself with a Northern party in the North-South parliamentary forum. It is most likely that the SDLP would be such a suitable party.
"A leading figure in the SDLP has already called for a merger with Fianna Fail.
"Tom Kelly has become the first member of the SDLP's high command to support fusion with the Republic's largest party."
The SDLP's membership base has become so insignificant over the last decade that a merger with Fianna Fáil is unlikely to do Destiny's Soldiers any harm at all. A large influx of new members from the Republican heartlands of Tyrone, Fermanagh and Armagh can be expected to have a good influence on the character of this new party (or whatever it might call itself) on the Northern political scene.
However, a straightforward merger with the SDLP would immediately pose one very awkward question for Fianna Fáil. The great question of abstention, or not, at Westminster.
In a merger Fianna Fáil would inherit the SDLP's still fairly substantial corps of representatives in the Northern Councils, the Northern Assembly and at Westminster. After the next General Election, which can be expected sometime sooner rather than later, the SDLP will have at least two and possibly three seats at Westminster. Durkan's seat is safe. MacDonnell's seat is problematic. It appeared for some time that, with Eddie McGrady retiring, his South Down seat would go to Sinn Féin. That is now very much in doubt as McGrady's substantial local base can be expected to transfer in a body to his nominated successor (especially if that is SDLP Assembly Minister, Margaret Ritchie). And Sinn Féin, perceived to be living the high life behind closed doors of well-funded, highly-paid jobs for the boys (the Shinnercures unkind people call them in the North), has lost electoral momentum, in the North as well as over the Black Pig's Dyke. As of now it seems likely that the SDLP will hold South Down.
So what should Fianna Fáil do with at least one, perhaps as many as three, Westminster seats? Holding on to them is just not on the cards. We would advise them to avoid any rows about abstention as such and simply take the polite option of refraining from interfering in the internal affairs of another state. End of problem.
Even if Dev's wee divils reject the merger option they can expect to be brought up against this Westminster Conundrum in short order. Dermot Ahern is quoted in the Sindo as saying that he does not intend to give Sinn Féin a "free run anywhere in Ireland".
That hardly squares with the idea of fighting elections in the North being "not even on the agenda at the moment". A Northern Fianna Fáil party (under whatever name or formal appearance) which backed away from fighting Gerry Adams in West Belfast would be here today and going going gone tomorrow. Not even on the agenda is just not an option.
The kind of people who can be expected to join Fianna Fáil under the banner of not giving the Shinners a free run anywhere in Ireland are precisely those people who will be straining at the leash to chase those same boyos everywhere in Ireland. The disgruntled Republicans of South Armagh and South Derry and the disillusioned SDLP members of West Belfast and West Tyrone are well used to electoral politics and not at all used to sitting through counts they haven't a candidate in. Fianna Fail will soon find that, this side of the Black Pig's Dyke, it's in for a penny in for a pounding (and divil take the hindmost).
Now then, how does the idea, which really does seem set to soon become a fact, of Fianna Fáil organising in the North look likely to pan out in the longer term?
The most that any Irish nationalist can expect over the next long haul of years is the recreation of the national body politic which, before what occurred between the 'Treaty' negotiations and the Boundary Commission fiasco, really did span and involve the whole Irish nation. That is a long way from a truly united and fully independent Ireland, but it is the essential precondition of winning that full measure of freedom.
Sinn Féin is an all-Ireland party, albeit one that is confused as between the 'independent' and the 'united' elements of Ireland's national aspiration. The worst that the appearance of another all-Ireland Republican party can do to the Shinners is shake, and hopefully wake, them up. The Labour Party has for several years now been organised nationally, albeit with illusions and inhibitions about queering the pitch for its sister party the SDLP. In all likelihood the SDLP's reaction to Northern Fianna Fáil will open the Labour Party's eyes, destroying its illusions and casting aside its inhibitions. Then there's Fine Gael which is unlikely to let the Soldiers of Destiny boldly go while its Blue shirts wave idly in the wind of them passing. And who knows, those Soldiers may even recall to mind the air and lyric of their Destiny. All in all, on every side, no bad thing!
Bearing in mind always that the Hibernian Question is hovering around, just waiting its moment to be posed. Any suggestion that Ireland can be united under the aegis, or tied to the apron strings, of Old Mother England must now and forever be rejected with all the force at this nation's command. Whack Fol the Diddle.
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