With internal turmoil and flagging performance in the opinion polls, why would anyone want to join Fianna Fáil? Ciarán Fitzgerald explains why he chose to abandon Sinn Féin and to become a Soldier of Destiny
Sinn Féin will always have a place in my heart, and I have many comrades there, but it is now obvious they are completely out of touch with the people on the ground in the Republic of Ireland. This has become more evident in the wake of the 2007 General and 2009 Local Elections, where Sinn Féin lost seats but managed to retain its percentage share of around 7 percent. SF is the only opposition party not to have made electoral gains during the recession.
During the last local elections I became disillusioned with the party and the leadership. In the last few weeks of campaigning, party activists were instructed to abandon their own constituencies and assist Dublin-based sitting councillor Daithí Doolan in one last gasp at keeping his seat. Not one single person was from Dublin; not one person was from Doolan’s constituency, or even lived there. The alarm bells were ringing loud.
There is an increasing Northern-biased leadership within Sinn Féin, who are more focussed on the Northern Assembly than on politics in Dublin or anywhere in the South. The average 26-county voter sadly doesn’t care about the stop-go peace process in the North.
Sinn Féin do not address the bread-and-butter issues that affect people in the South. It has zero concrete economic policies, just idealism. At the 2008 Árd Fheis, a motion was put asking the party to clarify its economic, and specifically taxation, policies after the leadership had been embarrassed on television by Michael McDowell. The reply was shocking: “This party will make specific economic and tax policies when the time comes to go into government.” But how can Sinn Féin expect people to vote for them without stated ideas and policies on something as important as economics and taxation!?
It is for these particular reasons that Sinn Féin is losing its activist base in the South, and Dublin in particular. The party is bleeding members and elected officials – Cllr Christy Burke being a recent high-profile defection. Bad policies and organisation has cost the party dearly: the party has been decimated in North Dublin, where there have been six motions of no confidence in the last two years. I had certainly lost all confidence in Sinn Féin and so decided to leave the party, I would not go down with the ship.
I thought about looking into membership of Fianna Fáil, as they appealed far more to me than Labour, and Fine Gael was an absolute non-runner. Paddy Conroy, the chair of the famous Kevin Barry Cumann (KBC), the UCD branch of FF, invited me to some meetings. Some brilliant politicians have passed through since my time in UCD; including Senator James Carroll and current Ógra National Organiser, Brian Doyle. I can honestly say I was welcomed with open arms. I was struck by their honesty and passion for politics.
The KBC has massively increased its active membership reflecting that Ireland’s youngest and brightest are ignoring the media’s populist attack on the party and believe that FF is the only party who will bring Ireland back to prosperity, economic growth and social equality. Not the Greens, not Fine Gael, not Labour – and certainly not Sinn Féin!
The popularity and consistent growth of FF nationally at youth level sends a clear message to the other political parties. Fianna Fáil have the policies, the talent, the determination, and 71 years of government experience to prove it. The electorate is never wrong.
I believe that the government are making tough but absolutely necessary decisions at present to get Ireland back on track and back to work. This country was hit very badly by the global recession and ordinary people are suffering because of the construction bubble. Many people are now in negative equity, struggling to meet mortgage payments. The sad reality is that nobody saw the recession coming to the extent and speed in which it came in 2008.
The government requested an independent investigation of a possible bubble in the construction sector in 2006 and 2007, and were advised that there was “no bubble” and that the economy would continue to grow until 2011 – a statement endorsed by IBEC. Let’s face facts: Ireland was borrowing €450m a week at 5.5 per cent interest rates – a billion a fortnight! Revenue was at 2003 levels, while state expenditure remained at 2009 levels! Any budget had to be harsh, but at present Fianna Fáil seem to be blamed even when it rains.
The ERSI recently predicted that the recession is nearly over, specifically because the government has made the recommended €4bn in cuts. The ERSI also states that higher earners have been hit the hardest in the last three budgets, contrary to claims by Labour et al suggesting the government was “protecting the rich”. Workers earning the most were cut the harshest.
No government is ever popular in a recession, but I am backing Fianna Fáil because it is putting the welfare of the state and its citizens above its own. Popularity and opportunism are luxuries that only the opposition can afford. Good governments make the right choices and take unpopular tough decisions. I believe in the current government’s ability to steer us through these stormy waters.
Fianna Fáil is committed to eventually contesting elections up North. As a Republican this is something close to my heart. The Ógra cumainn in the North passionately believe that Fianna Fáil can offer a real alternative to the politics of failure. FF has made the brave and right decision to sign up to the UK Electoral Commission, and represent passport holders and citizens of the Republic in the North who cannot even vote for their own president (including the President herself).
See you at the next Kevin Barry Cumann meeting. The future of Ireland is in safe hands.