Fianna Fáil – Ireland’s new liberal party?
I may describe myself as an Irish liberal republican, but despite Fianna Fáil sobriquet as The Republican Party and their recent membership of the pan-European political party, the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR), I feel no particular affinity towards them. It seems their fellow members of the ELDR are realizing this too. In this article from the EU Observer (hat tip to Edward Gaffney), Taoiseach Brian Cowen is having difficulty at a meeting of the ELDR because neither of the two candidates he has publicly supported for the position of President of the European Council is an ELDR member, John Bruton being a member of the European People’s Party and Tony Blair being a member of the Party of European Socialists.
Then on a European Parliament level, a motion proposed by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE), the group the ELDR belong to, criticizing the freedom of information laws in Italy, reached a tie after the three Fianna Fáil MEPs abstained from the vote. Few could in all seriousness consider Brian Crowley, Pat the Cope Gallagher and Liam Aylward as the shining lights of liberalism in this country, so it is unsurprising that they raised eyebrows among their new Liberal colleagues by trying to scupper a motion on gay rights.
I think it really is a question of how long this arrangement will last. Every other party in the ELDR has a long-standing tradition of liberalism, whether a commitment to the free market or to civil liberties. It was odd in the first place that they were admitted, and it would be interesting to see the presentation they made to convince them that they were very much a different party to the one that had opposed divorce, contraception and the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s, rather than simply taking a pragmatic decision to tone down their social conservatism. I doubt the ELDR would have been much impressed with Bertie Ahern’s claims to be a socialist, either. Perhaps they were just happy to get a government party, though that won’t be the case for much longer.
Far be it for me to give advice to Fianna Fáil, and this is probably more a prediction of what will occur, but it would make sense for them to make a shift within the ALDE to the European Democratic Party. They would still face criticism on matters of votes within the Parliament, but at least they would be making clear that they are different to those parties who sign up to the ELDR for liberal reasons, and would not be expected to support ELDR candidates at a supranational level. The Wikipedia page for the party shows that it comprises parties that Fianna Fáil would be much more comfortable with, such as François Bayrou‘s Democratic Movement and the Basque Nationalist Party. They would get the benefit of affiliation at an international level with centrist US Democrats, through the Alliance of Democrats. In ways, the party of Tammany Hall could well that which is closest on an international level to the traditions of Fianna Fáil.