As the perennial chancers of Irish politics, Fianna Fáil have undergone multiple regenerations since the foundation of the state. The positioning of Fianna Fáil at any one time is a thermometer reading to the contemporary condition of Irish life.
From the national autarky of De Valera to the liberal managerialism of Lemass, the party has a knack of changing with the times. It’s very easy to despise the party, but at the same time impossible not to comprehend it is a by-product of the social conditions that propel it.
Put succinctly, Ireland gets the Fianna Fáil it deserves, a microcosm of the socio-economic and cultural fault lines that constitute the 26 county state at any one time.
With De Valera it represented those normally of a lower socio-economic standing less protective about the economic connection with England, as manifested in the Economic War. From Lemass to Ahern we see an emphasis on the more aspirational lower middle class voters open to economic liberalisation, all the while handling the northern conflict with its republican but not too republican credentials.
With Micheál Martin we see an attempt to refashion the party as a more social democratic and more progressive version of Fine Gael, leaving a faction of their voter base rather dazed and alienated. The past ten years of dragging the party out of electoral oblivion has seen it shift to becoming practically indistinguishable from the Labour party of 2010.
A Fianna Fáil parliamentary leader endorsing and campaigning for abortion would have been unthinkable ten years ago, but it is a signifier of the extent to which our political overton window has lurched left.
For years I have been told of a latent conservatism hiding in the cupboards of the Fianna Fáil cumainn structure or parliamentary party, though no genuine schism has materialised. For decades the party has been harangued by the commeteriat as being the party of Catholic reaction as it runs headlong in the direction of liberal social democracy.
There will be no Éamon Ó Cuív led consrvative rearguard against Martin as certain activists keep telling us, or even dog-whistling to appease the residual conservative voters. If you are socially conservative let alone nationalistic and an activist with any aspirations, expect to be crushed. At this stage it is unlikely that there will be even a Tóibín-esque figure to split from the party and tear some conservate voters away.
A minor victor of the Tory triumph last month will be the previously forlorn Barry Andrews, elected in May of this year but unable to take his seat due to the logjam Brexit process.
On the face of it Andrews has an eminent CV, ideal for a party apprehensive about securing its holdings after the 2011 election wipe-out in Dublin. With a political bloodline stretching from the revolutionary period and extending to members of the state broadcaster and cabinet table, he embodies the definition of dynasty politics.
Following a stint in the Dáil he made a name for himself in the NGO sector with the human development charity GOAL, whilst avoiding any fallout from the sanguinary internal disputes that plagued the organisation. Until election he acted as Director-General of the Europhile Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) lobby group.
In short Andrews personifies everything that a conservative publication like this stands against. A managerial class that is increasingly severed from its country of origin, and which is strident in its belief of ever greater union with Brussels and what is euphemistically labelled the international community. A class which was taken by surprise at the Brexit decision, and which will fight tooth and nail to stop it being repeated in Ireland.
Andrews has familial and political roots in Dublin, but could just as well be from any of the European 27 nations. As a veritable machine-man for globalism, his sights are set on a post-nationalist and inevitably post-Irish Ireland, operating as a mere jurisdiction in a wider transnational enterprise.
Andrews to be fair wears his globalism on his sleeve, as he is a committed internationalist championing the cause of refugees in Syria through the GOAL organisation. From 2008 to 2011, prior to his tenure at GOAL, he was Minister for Children, coincidentally at the same time as his barrister wife was paid over a million by the state to fight asylum cases.
Failing his post-crash 2011 re-election bid, he too then specialised in the lucrative business of childhood asylum applications as a barrister. In 2014 during his TED talk he even forwarded the possibility of being supportive of a no-fly zone in Syria against the Assad regime, raising the chance of an overt military invasion there by Western nations.
His policy platform rests on a commitment to a liberal democratic Europe with a global Dublin at the centre of it. With the standard clichés around sustainability and innovation, there is nothing that distinguishes him from a Social Democrat or even a Blueshirt candidate. It certainly is not your grandfather’s or even your father’s Fianna Fáil, with Martin conscious of the need to change with the times in a new and increasingly progressive nation.
He personifies Fianna Fáil’s latest regeneration from the Cowen/Ahern era. The party appears to be flinching away from the reputation garnered the past few decades as an amoral all-boys’ developers’ party. In its stead, it is micromanaging an image change to a bog-standard progressive flag bearer.
However, with this latest morphing the party perhaps writes its future demise, alienating conservative voters such as those that opted for Peter Casey over FF’s Brendan Smith, losing them a seat in the 2019 European elections.
In the coming years perhaps the greatest challenge facing Fianna Fáil is that acclimatising to the fact it will never command an Oireachtas majority, and may potentially slip into third place within the 26 counties. From experience dealing with many Fianna Fáil younger members, its primary attractiveness to young people is careerism with the party surviving off an ossified system of parochialism and clientelism.
When it becomes self-evident that Fine Gael is the party of middle of the road globalism and Fianna Fáil is destined to play second if not third fiddle on the national arena, the party will buckle. Irish politics operates under a patronage system, and once it becomes clear that Fianna Fáil provides reduced chances of career advancement into government than Fine Gael, its demise will be on the horizon.
Andrews despite his bloodline might as well be a Fine Gael candidate for all intents and purposes. The stronger tint of republican green always differentiated Fianna Fáil historically, but in an era where nationalism is forsaken and Sinn Féin has been normalised, what difference is there?
Generations of my family voted for the party for the simple fact that they were not the Blueshirts, and provided a better alternative to lower middle class aspirational voters with some vestigial republican idealism. Aside from being a springboard of those with obvious international ambitions, what is the purpose and political telos of Fianna Fáil in 2020?
With Andrews we have perhaps a rather competent individual suited for the role of the European Parliament, but one that is otherwise deracinated from his national roots. The era of Barry Andrews and his ilk will continue for the time being, just as the national Catholicism of De Valera triumphed in the 1930s, so will liberal internationalism last another few election cycles for Andrews and co.
However whether he realises it or not the window is fast closing on the era of rampant globalism across the Western world. In France and Spain, we have already witnessed the collapse of the once mighty catch-all parties in the form of the Socialist Party, as we might see one day with the Soldiers of Destiny.
By totally converging on an agreed set of liberal principles, in tandem with failing to tackle a systemic housing crisis alongside ludicrous immigration policies, Irish politics plants the seeds for populism a decade hence.
Similar to the Blair years in the UK, Irish politics is increasingly clustered around the centre and a rather banal centre at that. While Ireland lacks many of the socio-economic conditions for populism around de-industrialisation, it has a bloated liberal centre that populism defines itself against and which Andrews is part of.
As seen with the shameful Dara Murphy resignation, Ireland does have a transnational elite ready to decouple from Ireland as it goes global. The extent to which they praise the globalist institutions is always done with one eye on the office space in Brussels or elsewhere.
Andrews will take his place in the European Parliament and will no doubt serve his patch of the EU as diligently as the extent to which MEPs have power. However the day will come when the electorate will come to realise the truth that there is no need for Fianna Fáil in 2020 or beyond.