Whether it was Varadkar’s exchanges with Doherty in the Dáil or reading McCullough’s biography on De Valera, I decided to revisit my decision to leave Fianna Fáil some months ago. Having been a member of the party for several years, I was very much an active member of the cumann in DCU, and I still think fondly of my time there. I like to think I was an active member, and indeed we had some moderate success in student politics, like campaigning to successfully pass a referendum on DCU SU adopting a pro-Irish Unity position (by a three to one margin as well, mind you).
But thinking back, I can’t help wonder if this flirtation with nationalism was the kiss of death for my relationship with Fianna Fáil. We had some very active members in the campaign, indeed both the former and present chairs of the cumann did exceptionally well, and both have gone on to become members of the Central Officer Board of Ógra Fianna Fáil nationally. During that time, FF was the largest political party in DCU. But even so, with our enthusiastic nationalist core, we were on a good day outnumbered at least two to one by Ógra Shinn Féin.
This is student politics, and drawing inferences from that would be delusional, but we can certainly draw from real political instances too. When Sorcha McAnespy was announced as a Fianna Fáil candidate in the North at the next local elections, my heart had leapt with joy, only to be smothered at birth when Fianna Fáil HQ (read: Mícheál Martin and his advisors) denied any such decision had been reached, and took action against the architects, Deputy O’Cuív and Senator Daly, relegating them to the backbenches.
That is why I no longer have any faith in Fianna Fáil’s leadership. Conservative Nationalists like myself have long held out hope, spurred on by nice words and false starts, but we must come to the sobering conclusion that we are the minority in Fianna Fáil, and only growing smaller. If you asked a man whose family had voted Fianna Fáil for three generations what way his son was voting, he’d probably say Sinn Féin.
Fianna Fáil in its inception had been a radical party, one that did not need to prove its Republican credentials every time it spoke about the North or reviving Ireland’s path to unity. After winning an election and unseating Cumann na nGaedheal, Fianna Fáil TDs had carried handguns in their pockets to ensure the Blueshirts couldn’t renege and ignore their democratic mandate in a coup.
In his student days, Charles Haughey had led UCD students on a riot in Trinity and burned the Union Jack after the disrespecting of the Irish Tricolour. The same Charles Haughey had armed the IRA after the British State murdered innocent Irishmen, and the same Charles Haughey had gone on to be elected Taoiseach and Leader of Fianna Fáil.
The Fianna Fáil of today is a very different creature. Ian Woods, the President of Ógra Fianna Fáil, unreservedly condemns the very same men that protected Irish Catholics from the Loyalist gangs and their colluding accomplices in the British State. Other members of the Central Officer Board have also spoken of the ‘terrorist scum.’
While there are those in the party who may nurture the same traditional Nationalist views that I do (I know for certain some who do and they have my undying respect and gratitude), not a day goes by that TDs like Billy Kelleher or Thomas Byrne fail to resist the urge to attack Sinn Féin for its links to the IRA, for the old IRA’s use of violence in protecting civilians who were burned out of their homes by Loyalist gangs as the RUC watched.
It is from this that we should return to Varadkar’s exchange with Doherty in the Dáil. Speaking on SF’s refusal to condemn violence by what seem to be dissident Republicans in Roscommon, he claimed that it didn’t take long for “the balaclava to slip.”
It is to this man Mícheál Martin (he himself is only interested in a northern expansion of Fianna Fáil because he likes the letters SD in SDLP, not out of any Nationalist Republican tradition) has given an extra year in power for absolutely nothing in return. Mícheál is a keen political operative – not many men could have survived leading Fianna Fáil into its two worst election results in history, alienated the base, subjected the party to being a junior coalition partner to Fine Gael, and still remained as the leader.
But what Mícheál is not, is a ‘big n’ Nationalist. Fianna Fáil is no longer the medium for the Irish Nation to make known its will on Earth. It’s a generic remake of the centre left social democratic parties that have flourished and now die throughout Europe.
Those Conservative Nationalists in Fianna Fáil, those who adhere deeply to the Republican tradition of an Ireland whole and united, sovereign and Gaelic and free, for the whole of the Irish people to cherish as a homeland to live in, in safety and prosperity, must confront their consciences like I did, and must come to the decision on what they believe comes first – Party or Nation.
The Fianna Fáil of the past is dead and gone, and it isn’t coming back. What we need now is to find for ourselves a new vehicle for Irish nationalism. The Social Democratic leadership can keep Fianna Fáil, its President’s Dinners and its National Superdraws.
Keep the party, because we’re taking our future.