Alright, so. Fianna Fail.
For reasons that are beyond me, Fianna Fail decided to run two candidates in Kildare North. This was a not a pre-planned arrangement: Councillor James Lawless was selected alone in a contest with Councillor Frank O’Rourke back in March, only for the party hierarchy to add O’Rourke to the ticket a few months later. Why would they do this? Local level shenanigans perhaps? Or is it a geographical consideration? I’ll talk about that in a bit.
James Lawless is up first. He’s a first time GE candidate, elected to the local council at the second attempt in 2014, topping the poll in fact. And look, a snazzy website to boot. This is an improvement. In terms of policy, there’s the expected on things like crime – more Garda, tougher sentencing – cheaper childcare, greater support for Naas hospital, improving shop fronts, etc, etc, the meat and bones of a local councillor. There’s also some stuff I disagree with, like opposition to local wind farm plans.
And how about Councillor O’Rourke? He’s another first time GE candidate, also elected to the local council for the first time in 2014, also topping the poll in the process. I’m starting to see a pattern here. His website is much the same as Lawless’ in terms of content: supporting the elderly, more housing, better public transport etc. There’s also calls for greater support for residents’ associations undertaking local work, interesting idea, and commentary on broadband access in the constituency, which is a good thing to bring up.
But the pattern for that is essentially calling for more and more and more without detailing how the more is going to come into being. Neither Lawless nor O’Rourke’s websites go into anything resembling great detail on issues like tax or charges. Those websites like WhichCandidate offer a bit more, and it isn’t great stuff to my eyes: eliminating water charges totally with no offering of anything to make up for it, stopping refugees from entering the country, advocating continued religious control of school entries…not surprising that stuff doesn’t end up on the main website. They both seem like nice, hard-working guys, but they also seem locked in local election mode in terms of message. Where’s the big picture discussion? Where are the red-lines? Where are quotes on coalition partners? Is it Fianna Fail’s policy to leave all that for the real big guns? Perhaps there is a fear that bringing up such things on a constituency level will, shall we say, cause voters to remember some not so great things about Fianna Fail in the not too distant past.
And that is one of the reasons these two are going forward in the first place. Fianna Fail’s 2011 catastrophe not only opened up a lot of vacancies – the former TD’s in this area, Aine Brady and Michael Fitzpatrick are seemingly done in politics – but also necessitated new faces, so that the stain of the Cowen government could be washed away, or at least covered up. While you can absolutely hold something against Fianna Fail for the party’s actions during their time in government, and I do, you can’t hold it directly against Lawless or O’Rourke, and I don’t. I’m willing to give them a slate relatively close to clean. Maybe a little smudged to be sure, but you could still eat off of it, promise.
But do either of them have a chance? If Fianna Fail were running one candidate, I would say they would definitely win a seat here. Combining the voters achieved by both Brady and Fitzpatrick in 2011, when Fianna Fail were at their most unpopular, a quota was actually there. And in 2007 the same duo blew the rest away with 35% of the first preferences. Add in Fianna Fail’s impressive performance during the locals, where they took 13 of 40 available seats, making them the largest party on the council, and it’s clear that FF have a substantial base of support here.
So, why, why, why, have they decided to run two candidates and risk winning no seats when they would have been highly tipped to win one seat with one candidate?
Lawless is Sallins based, and O’Rourke is Celbridge/Leixlip based, so an argument could be made, and I’m sure was made, that the two’s different bases could complement each other. But that could only be the case with careful vote management, and if, even informally, there were designated senior and junior candidate roles. I’ve read rumours that Lawless is the anointed one – since he was chosen by the local convention directly, and got more votes in the locals, this only stands to reason – but who knows if O’Rourke is actually going along with that? The bottom line is that two Fianna Fail candidates splits the Fianna Fail vote, and makes the process of winning a seat way more difficult than it had to be.
Maybe Fianna Fail could still pull it off, and if they do it will probably be with Lawless. But day by day I’m more and more convinced that they won’t, and that the party leadership will be left rueing a serious missed opportunity.
Whether Fianna Fail should be voted for is another question entirely. I’m a man who has voted Fianna Fail in the past (2007) but was one of a very many who ran very far away from their toxicity in 2011. And that will continue in 2016. It’s too near, and I am in no way convinced that the party has learned its lesson. I’ve known and encountered too many members of Fianna Fail in the past five years, especially its obnoxious youth wing (don’t worry OFF, you’re not alone in that department), who simply do not get it: who still peddle a narrative of “hard choices” and act as if an overly vengeful electorate unjustly punished them in 2011, and should now just get over it. There’s the constant hypocrisy of attacking government policies that Fianna Fail started, the flip-flopping of opposition (going from backing Seanad abolition to fighting to save it for example) and a stubborn refusal from some of its membership to acknowledge their reduced state and consider junior roles in coalition. They are still led by a man at the heart of the 2007-2011 disaster. You could have all the new candidates you want, but the rot, albeit reduced in scope, is still there. It’s an arrogance bred of Fianna Fail’s electoral history and place in Irish society, out of all kilter to the events of the last ten years.
I’m not made of stone. Lawless impresses me a bit, and I might throw him a preference in the region of #4 to #6 or something, if that will help him. O’Rourke less so, if only because he was parachuted into the constituency by higher-ups and probably shouldn’t even be involved. A victory for Fianna Fail here is a seat, pure and simple, probably at the expense of Anthony Lawlor, or maybe even Stagg. The minimum, now that they have committed to two candidates, is to make a fight of it, and be in contention, ahead of Cronin, Merriman, Young and everyone else not already a sitting TD. A failure would be to split the vote so evenly that they end up way down. And that could happen, and Fianna Fail will only have themselves to blame.
Next up, a look at the government.