Insider has closely observed your political career since you were first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1989, and believes you are now at your most politically content since that time. As you know better than most, the Ireland of 1989 was a different world to the Ireland of 2022, and there are only a handful of TDs still now in the Dáil who have had a longer parliamentary career than yourself.
Writing from Galway, there have been enormous changes in Dáil representation from here over that period, and Fianna Fáil face a very uncertain future in all three Galway constituencies, as the next general election appears on the horizon. Decisions which you make in the coming months, and Fianna Fáil’s performance in that election, will have a significant bearing on the party’s future in this region.
In a nightmare scenario for the party, it is possible that Fianna Fáil would return no TDs for any of the three Galway constituencies in the next election. Deputy Éamon O’Cuiv will be 73 years of age in the summer of 2023, and he has given great service to the people of Galway since being first elected to the Dáil in 1992. Luckily for the party, there is no mention that he may not contest the next election, as if he were not a candidate, it is possible that the party would struggle to hold its single seat in Galway West.
Minister of State, Anne Rabbitte just held back the Sinn Féin tide in Galway East in 2020 by 337 votes. If the overall party performance declines in the next election, compared to 2020, she will have a real battle on her hands. She is seen to have performed well in her role as Minister of State, and if the candidate list in the next election is similar to 2020, there will be a titanic battle between, at least, four candidates for three seats where no-one can consider themselves a ’sure thing’ to succeed.
To the disappointment of many, Senator Eugene Murphy lost out in the election of 2020 in Roscommon-Galway, and he will need a strong showing by the party if he is to retake his seat.
On the other hand, a good day out for the party in the next election could see them secure seats in all three constituencies. It is all to play for.
But, back to yourself. Insider always felt when you became Taoiseach in June 2020 that you would step down as leader of Fianna Fáil when the time came to hand over the office of Taoiseach to Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar. Now, I think that is extremely unlikely, but I still harbour major doubts about your declaration that you will lead the party into the next election.
You have clearly enjoyed holding the office of Taoiseach, and I suspect you feel your time has been cut short too early, and you would like another year or two in the job. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic dominated the early months of your tenure, so even the thirty months in the top job seemed considerably less. Unfortunately, it is not possible to return to Government Buildings without fighting another general election as party leader, and even then, there are no guarantees of a return to government.
Compared to two years ago, when a heave against you was a distinct possibility, you are now in a very secure position. You will have your choice of Cabinet portfolio in the coming weeks, and can then decide to depart the front line at a time of your choosing, or stay on and fight another day. It is not true that all political careers end in failure, but leaving at a time of your own choosing, sometime in late 2023, or 2024 must be very temping.
You have rendered considerable service to the party and country, and in early 2011 no-one would have believed Fianna Fáil would return as the party with the largest number of TDs in the space of just two general elections.
Relationship with Leo
The relationship between yourself and Tanáiste Leo Varadkar seems to have improved over the years, and Insider believes you have adopted the correct approach in dealing with your coalition partners. You stuck to your principles on how politics should be conducted, and refused to get into a spinning competition with your partners in government.
Insider has even heard some members of Fine Gael commend you for this approach. Some of your government colleagues have over-indulged in the spinning and posturing and it is to your credit that you have avoided this: the public have also become a little weary of it. As Insider looks back over your ministerial career to date, the smoking ban introduced in 2004 when you were Minister for Health, is the standout achievement.
There is little doubt that hundreds are now alive who may not otherwise be, and the benefits of this will be felt by every generation to come. This will be seen as no small achievement when your political obituary is being written.
Though the opposition seem to get under your skin every now and then, with their histrionics and antics in the Dáil, you know the slings and arrows of political life can be easily dealt with. Especially by someone who has been personally dealt the cruellest blow of all, in your case, tragically, on two occasions.
Insider admires your patience when faced with the pathetic ‘elitist’ jibes from across the Dáil chamber, by the privately educated feigning their working class concerns. The constant accusations of you not caring about ‘workers and families’ (an expression that must be force fed to every Sinn Féin politician on a daily basis ) have become tiresome by now.
Insider has recently read of speculation that some in Fianna Fáil are discussing the conditions for entering government with Sinn Féin after the next election. Among the items mentioned was a repudiation by Sinn Féin of the terrorist campaign of the provisional IRA. Insider can assure those in Fianna Fáil who believe that may happen that there is no possibility of such a repudiation.
Interesting times lie ahead, and the Irish electorate have some very serious choices to make. Will the centre ground, as represented by politicians such as yourself, hold or will the populists make the breakthrough?
Do the centrist politicians, as represented by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, realise they will need to battle every bit as hard as the extremists to succeed in the forthcoming elections? What have we learned from recent elections, and changes of leader, in the UK and the US?
What will your role be in all of this? Indeed will you have a role at all, or will you ride off into the sunset, having passed the baton to the next leader of Fianna Fáil. Maybe you will then watch those who criticised you for not making greater gains, preside over a further demise of the party.
So many questions. For now, so few answers.