With all the post-election manoeuvring going on at the moment, particularly in the press and the online commentariat, there seems to be some attempt to place Fianna Fáil at the very centre of centrist politics in Ireland, a sort of Gaelic Gaullist movement with finely balanced progressive and conservative wings accurately reflecting the beliefs of the Irish citizenry as a whole. Rory Costello of the University of Limerick writing for the Irish Politics Forum seems to agree with some of this:
“Much of the discussion in the media has been about the similarity of the two biggest parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. This is certainly true, but it is also the case that Fianna Fáil positioned itself to the left of Fine Gael in this election on the key issues. This is evident both in the respective focus of the two parties campaigns (Fine Gael emphasised tax cuts while Fianna Fáil prioritised spending on public services) and in their positions on the key issues (e.g. Fine Gael promised to abolish USC for everyone, while Fianna Fáil promised to scrap the tax only for low and middle income earners).
It is therefore clear that Fianna Fáil is positioned at the centre of the new Dáil in policy or ideological terms. Around one third of the seats will be to the right of Fianna Fáil (i.e. Fine Gael), and around one third to the left of Fianna Fáil (including the AAA-PBP, Sinn Féin, Greens, Social Democrats, Labour and some of the independents).”
These claims are highly debatable, as I noted under the original article. In the context of Irish politics Fine Gael is a right-wing Christian Democratic party while Fianna Fáil is a centre-right Christian Democratic party, albeit one whose institutional culture is tempered by a republican legacy from its revolutionary-era Sinn Féin past that FG abandoned at its inception. So whatever about its distant populism of yore, when FF had a small if vocal centre-left tendency which families like my own voted for, those days are long gone unless Michaél Martin is suddenly about to embrace his inner Pearse and Connolly. It remains a fact, however uncomfortable for some, that in terms of their socio-economic policies FF and FG continue to be closer to each other than to any other party in An Dáil. Take away questions about national reunification, the Irish language, the importance of the 1916 Easter Rising or “Your grandfather shot my grandfather in 1922!”, and there is very little of substance to mark them apart.
Similarly arguments that the contemporary Labour Party should be placed to the left of FF are also open to question given the last five years of enthusiastic right-wing governance by Enda Kenny and Joan Burton. The latter’s only credible claim to progressive principles is on the basis of her qualified support for the provision of abortion services in Ireland. Which of course several FG and FF TDanna share too, albeit usually in private. In truth the title of “labour” is as relevant to the modern Labour Party as Fine Gael’s sobriquet of the “United Ireland Party” is to it.
A more accurate summation of the current political landscape, aside from my own post-election analysis yesterday, can be found in Michael Taft’s opinion piece for the Broadsheet, as highlighted by the CLR:
“In the new Dail Fine Gael and Fianna Fail look set to take 94 seats. In 2011 they won 95 seats. However, this is a smaller Dáil. In percentage terms, the two conservative parties won 57.2 percent of seats in the 2011 Dail; now they won 59.5 percent.
The conservative vote didn’t fall; it just swapped between the two parties. And this doesn’t count the increase in conservative and gene-pool TDs who look to increase from six to eleven seats.
Progressive parties and independents put in a credible performance. However, the breakthrough that many were hoping for (including me) didn’t come.
Sinn Féin increased their popular vote by 3.9 percentage points with the AAA-PbP increasing by 1.5 percentage points. Combined, these two parties look set to gain 13 seats – positive but about half the Fianna Fáil increase.
The Social Democrats took three percent but couldn’t increase on their outgoing total while the Greens are back in parliament with two seats. However, the number of progressive independent TDs doesn’t appear to be increasing at time of this writing.”
He then suggests some policies that the parties of the left and centre-left would do well to take heed of if we are merely in an electoral interregnum of uncertain length.