In elections since 1997, we have had the unusual feature of seeing posters for someone not standing in the election in any constituency, as Gerry Adams appeared on leader posters. This year, though he is contesting the election in Louth, I haven’t seen any of these posters. Perhaps I’ve just missed them.
But beyond that, I really don’t understand the Sinn Féin decision to run Adams in Louth. He came off badly in the Mini Leaders’ Debate in 2007, when Michael McDowell brought him down in a kamikaze mission, and doesn’t seem to have improved greatly in his knowledge of politics outside of Northern Ireland:
Maybe he just felt left out, as Martin McGuinness was getting all the attention as Deputy First Minister. And he probably wants to be in the Dáil in 2016. But perhaps it is now time for him to retire from politics, having brought his party into the Northern Executive. I would not expect Sinn Féin to take advice from me, but I think they may wonder how wise they were to arrange this. He is considered to have less integrity than McGuinness because of his continued denial of his IRA membership, even though it was leaked and widely known that in 2005 that Adams, McGuinness and Martin Ferris had resigned from the IRA Army Council. He will be parliamentary party leader, but over five years, he could be displaced in the public eye by younger bloods like Pearse Doherty or Eoin Ó Broin, a candidate in Dublin Mid-West. Both these men are surely ambitious for a greater role within their party, and will feel the prominence of Adams an obstacle for them.
Adams may come to regret all the fuss necessitated by his resignation as MP for West Belfast when he assumed the role of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.
Not a Baron though. I’d have thought David Cameron would understand the peerage better than to have made that mistake in Prime Minister’s Questions. It’s not that easy to become part of the nobility. Adams’s title is much closer to that of groundskeeper.
In the past 150 years, there have been three significant wave elections in Ireland, which featured a significant change in the rank order of political parties since the previous election and a medium- to long-term change in the party system. We are now facing into the fourth.
1874 (and 1885) – Home Rule replaces Liberals
1868: Liberals – 66; Conservatives – 39
1874: Home Rule – 60; Conservatives – 33; Liberals – 10
The first of these was in 1874, when the new Home Rule League emerged as a political force led by Isaac Butt. In the previous few elections, after the demise of the Repeal Movement and the Independent Irish Party, the British Liberals and Conservatives were the only parties active in Ireland. In 1874, most of the Liberal support moved to Home Rulers. It took the leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell, as well as the nature of the close but difficult relationship between the Nationalists and the Liberals, to wipe the Liberals out as an active force in Ireland. Under his leadership in 1885, Home Rulers won 85 seats, with Conservatives winning 18, mainly confined to Ulster and the University of Dublin seats.
1918 – Sinn Féin replaces Home Rule
1910: Nationalist – 72; Unionists – 20; Liberal Unionists – 2; All-for-Ireland League – 6; Independents – 3
1918: Sinn Féin – 73; Unionists – 22; Nationalists – 6; Labour Unionists – 3; Independent Unionist – 1
The Nationalists maintained this dominance until 1918, even if in later years it suffered from factionalization. The rising in 1916 had put focus on Sinn Féin, a party founded in 1905 with an abstentionist policy advocating that Irish MPs should withdraw from Westminster and establish their own assembly in Dublin. They had a poor electoral record till 1917. During the First World War, the Nationalists in Westminster had been fighting against the introduction of conscription in Ireland. They were successful in that till 1917, and when they were finally beaten by the Government, they withdrew from parliament in protest. This was seen as an admission that the Sinn Féin approach was justified. It was then Sinn Féin’s activism that led to conscription being impossible to introduce, and Sinn Féin-backed candidates won a series of bye-elections in 1917 and 1918.
In December 1918 election, Sinn Féin broke through in full force. The Nationalists held only one seat outside of Ulster, William Archer Redmond in Waterford. Having been unopposed in election after election in many parts of the country, their electoral machine was no match against the vibrancy of the young Sinn Féin movement.
Sinn Féin then split in 1922 on the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In the four elections after the split, the rank order was the Pro-Treaty side, as Cumann na nGaedheal, followed by the Anti-Treaty side, as Fianna Fáil from 1926, followed by minor parties such as the Farmers’ Party, Labour, the National League and a large number of Independents. Though Cumann na nGaedheal governed alone, it did not have a majority and once Fianna Fáil entered the Dáil, it was dependent on the support of the Farmers and the Independents, which mainly represented business and Protestant interests.
1932 – Fianna Fáil beats Cumann na nGaedheal to top
1927: Cumann na nGaedheal – 62; Fianna Fáil – 57; Labour – 13; Farmers – 6; National league – 2; Irish Workers’ League – 1; Independent – 12
1932:Fianna Fáil – 72; Cumann na nGaedheal – 57; Labour – 7; Farmers – 4; Independent Labour – 2; Ind – 12
Then in 1932, Fianna Fáil won the most seats, and since then we have had a near uniform party system, with Fianna Fáil dominant, Fine Gael some way behind, followed by Labour and sometimes other parties. Only three times has this order been interfered with, when Clann na Talmhan moved ahead of Labour in 1933 and 1944, and the Progressive Democrats did so in 1987, but this did not last more than a single election. Under this party system, parties naturally pivoted around their relationship with Fianna Fáil. As long as Fianna Fáil insisted on ruling alone as a matter of principle, parties with natural differences such as the Fine Gael and Labour found themselves as regular partners in government.
2011 – Fine Gael and Labour set to pass out Fianna Fáil
2007: Fianna Fáil – 78; Fine Gael – 51; Labour – 20; Green Party – 6; Sinn Féin – 4; Progressive Democrats – 2; Independent – 5
2011 Latest Red C poll: Fine Gael 35%; Labour 21%, Fianna Fáil 14%, Sinn Féin 14%, Greens 4%, Others 12%
The polls have near consistently shown Fine Gael as the largest party in the next Dáil and it also looks likely that Labour could win enough to push Fianna Fáil to third place. A lot could change between now and the election, but the demoralising effect of ministerial retirements and the internal battles so close to an election could further depress Fianna Fáil voter turnout, while they remain toxic to transfers. Though it is likely that they will be closer to Labour in the final poll, they will fare poorly on transfers.
However well or poorly Fianna Fáil fare, they will be a very different party from now. Their raison d’être had been linked with their success, their belief that they embodied the Irish nation. Whether they become a small conservative nationalist party or a business and enterprise oriented party will depend very much on who remains.
While it is fair to expect Fine Gael and Labour to form the next government, it will be an unwieldy government, and this may be the last time for a generation where they are seen as natural government partners. Just as Cumann na nGaedheal did in the 1920s, Fine Gael could rely for its Dáil majority on sympathetic Independents. There is even a small possibility of this occurring this year, with Shane Ross having announced his intentions to stand, David McWilliams hinting. Were Declan Ganley to stand and be successful, he might support such a government with the assumption that on European matters Fine Gael would have the support of Labour. But such an arrangement remains yet only a distant possibility.
Just as it took two elections, 1880 and 1885, for the new party system after 1874 to emerge, we will be in a state of flux between parties for a little while yet. This election will be about the electorate giving its verdict on Fianna Fáil. Next time we should see the system that will remain for most of the early part of this century.
The publication of the Saville Report yesterday marked an end for many in Derry to years of waiting to be vindicated, for it to be clearly stated on the public record that the 14 protesters shot dead on 30 January 1972 were innocent and had been unlawfully killed. The publication yesterday was followed by a humble apology from David Cameron:
But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day – and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our Armed Forces acted wrongly. The Government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the Armed Forces. And for that, on behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am deeply sorry.
This is a significant admission of culpability on the part of the state in the actions on that date, and from the reception to the report and the state in Derry itself is a sign that it is one more step in the process of healing.
This report should also act a reminder to those of us who would condemn the actions of the IRA during that period. It is, of course, just to condemn those who took up arms against their fellow citizens, and the vindictiveness and the intransigence of those in the higher ranks of the IRA for many years, including the current leadership of Sinn Féin. And tribute must be paid to those leaders of nationalism in the SDLP, Gerry Fitt, John Hume, Seamus Mallon, Eddie McGrady, Mark Durkan and others, who consistently sought peaceful, constitutional and conciliatory approaches to settlement.
But in the context of Bloody Sunday, and perhaps more particularly of the Widgery Report which initially followed it, in which the army was exonerated, and accused of having “bordered on reckless”, that so many young Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland felt so alienated from the institutions of the state, with such a report that embodied the arrogant attitude that the state could do no wrong. At this distance, we should at least be able to comprehend and appreciate the part the British Army played in escalating the division and conflict in the years of the Troubles.
But most importantly now, while acknowledging the hurt of the past, Northern Ireland needs to move on to governing itself effectively, and it is thankfully managing to do so most of the time given the context of events like this.
Image from CAIN