“Before we go any further let’s have the split”. It’s a phenomenon the used to plague Sinn Féin until recently, but it looks like it might happen in that other Republican party Fianna Fáil - or at least its Galway city branch.
OK the party is not going to descend into warring factions, threatening each other with a lot of sabre rattling and violence on street corners, but there is a definite air of ‘Whose side you on?’ in Fianna Fáil these days.
The reason? The fallout from the Ollie Crowe v Martin Quinn to be Cllr John Connolly’s running mate in Galway City Central saga.
It is little secret that party HQ in Dublin and its supporters in the city wanted Mr Crowe while Galway grassroots members and Galway West TD Frank Fahey wanted Mr Quinn on the ticket.
However now that the decision has been made, why doesn’t the party pull together and fight for every vote it can - especially in the current climate when the incompetent leadership of Cowen, Lenihan, and Coughlan is making voters more anti-FF by the day?
That’s not how things work in party politics, and certainly not how they work in Fianna Fáil. As a candidate in another party once told me: “The first time I ran I didn’t realise that your biggest enemy was not the other parties but members of your own party.”
As such Fianna Fáil in the city will see things as “You’re either with Connolly or against him” or “You’re either with Crowe or against him.”
If they had any sense they would be recalling Gerry Collins’ impassioned plea to the party live on RTÉ in 1991: “Don’t burst the party!”
The anti-Crowe camp will be hoping that voters will resent the attempted Crowe ‘takeover’ of FF and votes for Cllr Connolly. However it is the FF hardcore and activists who feel aggrieved by Mr Crowe’s presence on the ticket, not the public.
Secondly, while Cllr Connolly will probably have the bulk of FF activists on his side - something that would usually be a big plus - the FF organisation in Galway city is not great and Oliver’s Army will be far slicker, shrewder, and energetic than they.
With Mr Crowe on the ticket, there is a possibility that there could be two sets of siblings on Galway City Council (the Crowe brothers and the Connolly sisters ). Four out of 15 seats is a significant portion of a small council and this is something people might not like.
FF grassroots in the city point to the fact that electorally Labour Cllr Colette Connolly has proven to be not as strong as was expected prior to her first run in 2004. They are hoping this might be indicative of a lukewarm attitude by the public towards the idea of sibling candidates.
The counter argument is that although Cllr Connolly is perceived as weak and vulnerable, she still has the potential to hold on and should not be discounted.
In the end it looks as if the two Fianna Fáil candidates will be fighting for the last seat in Galway City Central. Who wins depends on who has the highest first preferences and how well they transfer to each other.
Fianna Fáil will not poll as well in 2009 as in previous years. That may bode ill for Mr Crowe as he needs to get a ‘booster’ vote from the newer part of the ward based on geography, as Cllr John Connolly is better positioned for transfers. Obviously if the prevailing feeling is one of anti-FF sentiment, that booster may not emerge.
Whatever happens, both factions in Fianna Fáil should just remember the South Ward in 2004 and what happened when there was division and rivalry: Both Tom Cox and Val Hanley polled well but the lack of transfers cost the party its seat, allowing the Green’s Niall Ó Brolcháin to sneak through.