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10 December 2009 Edition

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Fianna Fáil finds the Fourth Green Field

TREMBLE at the sound of their approach, my Northern brothers and sisters, for Fianna Fáil is on the march.
The Boys of the Brown Envelope Brigade (never quite made it as a rebel song but available to buy online at are wandering up for reasons vaguely defined but linked in part to a sense of embarrassment at having abandoned the Fourth Green Field for eight decades.
Their latest coup is the addition to their ranks of Independent MLA Gerry McHugh who, somewhat fearful of having to face the voters of Fermanagh and South Tyrone (they thought they were electing a republican), has joined Fianna Fáil. ‘The Irish Times’ reported that he told a meeting organised by the party that “Fianna Fáil was the right party to bring about change in Northern Ireland”.
Northern Ireland? Tut, tut, Gerry. We call it the Six Counties, Gerry, or the North if we’re in mixed company, or the occupied, illegitimate, artificially-created six-county Orange statelet, if you want to be a little old school about it. And it seems that when you applied to join and they accepted you they didn’t even know you were an MLA, suggesting that there’s less than full awareness about what goes on in the Six down in Mount Street.
As for bringing change to the North, I think if you asked most people down here the only change we’re interested in is getting rid of Fianna Fáil. There are many people even willing to contemplate the unthinkable, Enda Kenny as Taoiseach, so desperate are they to get away from the people who have single-handedly crippled the Irish economy worse than any other state in Europe.
That’s certainly change, Gerry, but I’m not quite sure it’s what the men and women of Fermanagh and Tyrone are hoping for.

STILL, this is progress of a sort. For decades the map of Ireland in Fianna Fáil HQ had a large blank space above Dundalk with the words “Here be dragons!” Over the years they would occasionally dispatch a few border TDs and senators to canvass half-heartedly with the SDLP come election time. You’d see photographs of them with fixed smiles in the local papers next to a handful of grinning SDLP canvassers, generally related to their candidate, as is SDLP tradition.
The Fianna Fáilers would always look slightly bewildered, like inmates from an asylum let out for the day (or perhaps sane people let into the asylum), and would have a close and tight hold of their wallets. Strongly recommended when spending long periods of time in the company of Stoops.
But here’s a thought: maybe Gerry has a point. Maybe what’s needed up North is a dose of Fianna Fáil. Maybe one of the best things that could happen for the development of a united Ireland is for Fianna Fáil (and 26-County Labour as well) to start contesting elections in the North. Not Fine Gael (“The United Ireland Party”), obviously, because there’s already a party in the North for Tories, unionists and big farmers, but you take my point.

SINN FÉIN is a national political party. Fianna Fáil confines itself to a region of the country. Admittedly a big region and they get more votes there than we do across the whole country but, still and all, they’re a bit derelict in the national interest department. If we had Fianna Fáil and Labour up North, contesting elections, experiencing what life is like on the ground for the nationalist community, seeing the divisions among the working-class sown by partition, it might have an impact on their policies. If nothing else, they might start to realise that partitionism, the maintenance of two economies, two sets of public services and the lack of an integrated approach to planning, energy and the environment is a bit daft.
Simply put, the more involved Southern parties are in the North, the better for ending partition.
But when the Southerners come up then whither the SDLP, the front outfit for the Dublin Government? Irish political life is currently dominated by heated discussions about the twists and turns in the hotly-contested race for the leadership of the SDLP. It’s all you hear about in the pubs and cafés around the country.
Wise old men in the corner of the bar shake their heads and wonder whether Margaret Ritchie could bring to the job the same kind of electric dynamism as Mark Durkan. Enthusiastic young firebrands call for three cheers for Alasdair McDonnell and predict he will take his rightful place in Irish history alongside “that guy”, “the baldy one with glasses”, and other heroes of the SDLP.
Ah, what a joy it is to be alive in these times, my friends, as we debate earnestly whether Ritchie or McDonnell should be the person to turn off the lights, lock the door to SDLP HQ for good and make way for Fianna Fáil and Labour.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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