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Fianna Fáil continues on Martin’s road to oblivion

Twelve per cent. That’s the portion of the population, according to the very-highly rated Red C poll, published in the Sunday Business Post yesterday, who would give Micheál Martin and his band of merry men their first preference vote if a general election were held tomorrow:

To put the expected damage into some context, consider that Fianna Fáil currently has 38 seats in Dáil Eireann. In the 2002 General Election, Labour achieved 20 seats on 10% of the vote. In 2011, Fianna Fáil achieved 20 seats on 17% of the vote. Labour tends to be more transfer-friendly than Fianna Fáil, giving it a leg up in the battles for the last seat that dominate Irish election counts. On current polling, then, 20 seats is about the very best case scenario that FF could expect, were these figures to be borne out in an election. Chances are it would be much worse.

It is also remarkable that FF today is actually polling lower – substantially lower, in fact – than it did in the aforementioned 2011 General Election. Then, it had just been at the helm of the country during the most catastrophic economic collapse in living memory. Today, it purports to lead a relatively stable Government, during a time of relative (at least compared to 2011) prosperity. The reputation for economic incompetence that did it in a decade ago should really have faded.

When FF was last in a crisis like this, Micheál Martin had a prescription for how to fix it, as former FF advisor, Derek Mooney, reminds us:

It is, of course, not that simple. Mr. Martin is a major cause of the party’s current unpopularity with the voters. But he is also a symptom of a wider malaise, and one which will not be addressed by a new leader alone. After all, there is nobody in Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party who seems to have any substantive criticisms of the direction in which he has led the party. They will criticise his tactics – getting too close to Fine Gael, and so on – but nobody in that party is willing, or, probably, able, to articulate an alternative vision for what the party stands for, or who it should try to appeal to.

That is, incidentally, a major reason why going into Government was such a catastrophic error. In Government, at least in Ireland, there is no room for thinking. You follow the advice of the civil servants and the public health experts and the NGOs. You try to chart a middling course on just about every issue. You do not have time to develop new policies on housing or health, because you are too busy putting out fires on those issues. That was work that should have been done during the years in opposition, but it was not done, because Mr. Martin chose to support the Fine Gael government instead.

The sad truth, if you’re a Fianna Fáiler, is that there is no way back to major party status now, at least not with a major helping hand from a future crisis that engulfs every other political party. As it stands, FF will not even lead the opposition after the next election, let alone be in Government. Their share of media coverage will be reduced. Their state funding will fall. Their once-mighty grassroots organisation is, these days, almost non-existent, reduced to rooms full of older people whose best canvassing days are well behind them.

Fianna Fáilers deluded themselves, in the aftermath of the last election, that the party might “grow in Government”. The problem with that was that the party never had an electoral mandate to enter Government. The votes it did receive were given to it on the basis that it would get Fine Gael out of Government. Instead, it put them back in. Fine Gael has not paid a price for this, because they did not pretend that they would do anything else. Mr. Martin, and Mr. Martin alone of the three party leaders, revealed himself a liar.

And so this Government has nobody who is really rooting for it. There is basically nobody in Ireland who looks at Mr. Martin, in the Taoiseach’s office, and thinks “that’s my man, I put him in there”. There is no investment in supporting him. Even his bizarre commitment to share the Taoiseach’s office, and resign half way through the Dáil, makes him feel like a caretaker Taoiseach. A man who will not be there, this time next year. Nobody is willing to stick their necks out for him, because it is not logical to do so.

Over the last decade or so, Mr. Martin has made a series of decisions which have led FF to this sorry place. Almost all of them were obvious errors, but each time, his own party acceded to them for the simple reason that they had no better ideas. He has destroyed his own party, and all but guaranteed that he will be the last member of it to hold his present office.

You’d feel sorry for them, if you didn’t realise the truth: They let him do it to them.

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