To put this weekend’s Sunday Business Post/Red C Opinion Poll in context, remember two things: first, Fianna Fáil is the leading party of Government, led by the Taoiseach. And second, Fianna Fáil is the leading party of Government, led by the Taoiseach.
They may as well enjoy that status while it lasts:
Red C / Sunday Business Post
SF: 29% (+2)
FG: 29% (nc)
FF: 13% (-3)
SD: 6% (+1)
LP: 4% (+1)
GP: 3% (-2)
S-PBP: 2% (-1)
AÚ: 2% (nc)
I/O: 12% (+2)
+/- 28 January 2021
February 2021 pic.twitter.com/HRkS8lUlbK
— Next Irish General Election (@NextIrishGE) February 27, 2021
The party has lost a third of its (already anaemic) support from last year’s general election. In Connaught Ulster, once the most Fianna Fáil part of a very Fianna Fáil country, it has slumped to fourth place, and six per cent of the voting intention:
Red C / Sunday Business Post
SF: 39% (+12.0)
FG: 22% (+1.0)
SD: 7% (+5.9)
FF: 6% (-17.1)
AÚ: 4% (+1.3)
LP: 3% (+1.6)
GP: 2% (-2.0)
S-PBP: 1% (-0.1)
I/O: 16% (-2.0)
+/- Election 2020
February 2021 pic.twitter.com/cr1xl2t9Iu
— Next Irish General Election (@NextIrishGE) February 28, 2021
Before Micheál Martin led Fianna Fáil into this coalition Government last year, Eamon O Cuiv, grandson of the party’s founder, issued to members of the party a very stark warning. It’s worth reading what he said again:
Fianna Fáil TD Eamon O Cuív has written to party members warning them that accepting the coalition deal with Fine Gael and the Green Party will be “the beginning of the end” for Fianna Fáil.
“It is my regret,” Mr O Cuív warns, “if we enter this coalition, we will hasten the demise of our party and once again create a political system with two large parties, but that Fianna Fáil will not be one of them”.
He also says that the party’s recent poll rating of 14 per cent (in this week’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll) “will only get worse” if it joins the proposed three-party coalition.
If you happen to bump into Deputy O Cuív this week, be sure to ask him for the lotto numbers.
FF’s collapse, though, is unsurprising. Ask yourself – think really, really, really hard, now – if you can name a single idea or policy in Ireland that is a Fianna Fáil idea. If you’re reading Gript, chances are that you’re likely a regular consumer of the news and current affairs. You probably vote. You probably know, for example, who the leader of the Labour Party is. So, you should be able to name one or two FF policies. Can you?
It’s hard to see FF recovering their support from this position, either. For good or ill, Mr. Martin will leave office in 18 months or so, and hand over the position of Taoiseach to Mr. Varadkar. His problem, if we’re all honest, is that many voters probably feel as if Mr. Varadkar never left the office to begin with. The most prominent failures in this Government – the Ministers for Health and Education – are FF ministers. By contrast, Fine Gael has had the run of nice friendly jobs like foreign affairs, and enterprise.
The other problem – most evident in the Connaught Ulster figures, is that Sinn Fein is gradually, but with the inevitability of a glacier pushing everything in its path out of the way – becoming the party that Fianna Fáil once was, and attracting the voters that Fianna Fáil used to attract. It is more republican, more populist, more working class, and more ideologically flexible. SF might talk a nice lefty game to an online audience, but on the doorsteps of rural Ireland, it sells pragmatism, medical cards, grants for sports clubs, and fixing potholes.
In fact, Fianna Fáil is gradually becoming exactly what its stupider members have wanted it to become for decades now: A liberal, centrist, pro-EU, party, modelled on Britain’s Lib Dems.
The problem with that, of course, is that liberal centrists have many options to choose from, and parties that are explicitly liberal and centrist generally perform poorly in elections (look, if you don’t believe me, at the Lib Dems).
One can never say never, but there’s a sense now, even in Fianna Fáil, that this decline is probably terminal.
In the years after their obliteration in 2011, there were those in the party who genuinely believed that the normal swings of the political pendulum would bring them back into position as the main and only alternative to Fine Gael. But that idea is almost certainly dead now.
The only question left is whether there’s anyone in the party with the willingness to try to resurrect it. If not, the only decent thing left to do is to give it a proper funeral. FF, for all its faults, deserves much better than this slow, and lingering, death, under incompetent leadership.