“Sinn Féin, whether we agree with it and accept what it says or not, is an organisation brimful with answers to our problems and they are answers, in the main, that directly confront the policies being pursued by other parties.”
These are the words of a lifelong foe of Sinn Féin, Bruce Arnold OBE, writing in the Irish Independent on August 29. And he predicted in the same article that the “shrewd, tough adversary…Sinn Féin” will “replace Fianna Fáil as the main opposition party. This opportunity, once unthinkable, is now firmly on the cards.”
SF’s decision to run Martin McGuinness for president has truly trumped Fianna Fáil and possibly all the other parties. This intervention – whether he wins or not – will be a further boost for the Shinners. Martin McGuinness – love him or hate him – is a politician of considerable stature. In the words of Mary Kenny writing in The Independent on September 12 he “is possibly now the most impressive political figure in the 32 counties”.
And as we are all stunned by the mega-pensions being claimed by FF politicians and their civil servants, McGuinness’s commitment to accept only an average industrial wage if elected president is a breath of fresh air.
A Galway future for SF?
If SF is to overtake Fianna Fáil in the election stakes the party will need to make significant inroads in Galway county on both a local and national electoral level.
Certainly Trevor Ó Clochartaigh’s election as a Sinn Féin senator is a serious threat to Éamon Ó Cuív’s dominance in his adopted home of Connemara. Dev Óg’s crown has lost its shine not least because of the loss of the jobs in MFG, and Insider recently heard one FF councillor publicly jeer at Ó Cuív’s alleged threat to go to gaol over the septic tank charges. According to this upstart it made Ó Cuív a laughing stock as it was under Ó Cuív’s stewardship in the Department of the Environment of Environment that this new stealth tax was drawn up.
So divisions are rife in Fianna Fáil. Indeed, speculation and allegations abound that Ó Cuív is aiming to remove that councillor and replace him at the next election by his son Ó Cuív Óg. But the shrewd Ó Cuív has also bigger targets in his sights too, in the shape of party leader Micheál Martin.
His other real concern is the rise of SF in the county. He will remember that his steady rise to power began in the late 1980s when he was elected to the Seanad. It gave him a public platform and more importantly the means to set up an office in Galway city. Insider knows that Senator Ó Clochartaigh intends to do the same in the next few weeks.
Trevor Ó Clochartaigh is well respected in his native Connemara. He is not new to the political scene being a former Labour Party candidate, who retired for “family reasons”. His re-incarnation as a Republican is viewed by many with incredulity.
For some reason SF has pursued a curious, or even a dubious, policy of headhunting political figures in Connemara – despite having good, capable, rank-and-filers. First they tried to recruit Independent councillor Seosamh Ó Cuaig, then they turned to Seán Ó Coisteabhla. He became part of SF’s electoral “dream team” with Danny Callanan for the 2002 General Election. It ended in a nightmare with Ó Coisteabhla being jettisoned from the party. Then Callanan resigned for unknown reasons.
All of this disruption caused serious harm to SF in the city and in the last local election its first preference vote was embarrassingly low. By contrast in the 2004 locals, SF’s Anne Marie Carroll in the West Ward failed to be elected by only one vote.
The story was more positive in the county in 2009. Cllr Dermot Connolly was easily re-elected onto the Galway County Council for Ballinasloe. In Clifden, Kenneth Coyne performed very impressively on his first outing. Insider has little doubt young Coyne’s future looks good with the increased profile of the party nationally.
Ireland and Europe
Certainly the emergence of SF as a formidable force in the Dáil has improved the party’s popularity. People see SF as no longer a one-dimensional party focusing only on the Six Counties. Its Ard Fheis a fortnight ago showed that it has its finger on the pulse of the Irish people. Speaker after speaker – most of them young and working class – articulated the anger towards the EU/IMF bail-out and the Government’s austerity programme.
There is new life in the SF cumanns throughout the city and county. For example, the seemingly new Oranmore cumann appears to be very vocal. And more importantly, Gerry Adams will address a major United Ireland Conference on October 7 in the Galway Bay Hotel.
But what was evident from Adams’ address to the Ard Fheis – and was totally ignored by the Irish media – is that SF’s concern about Irish independence is not simply the issue of the “Brits” and partition, but the loss of control of our affairs to Brussels and Frankfurt. SF does not want Ireland to be under the thumb of anyone. It was the only political party opposed to Ireland joining the Euro and it has been proved correct.
If SF is to eclipse Fianna Fáil nationally, then it will have to target seats in both Galway constituencies. As a senator, Ó Clochartaigh has a good launching pad, but to take a Dáil seat in Galway East Cllr Dermot Connolly would need a significant swing. Connolly is of small farming stock, a former shop steward in Dubarrys, and a real gentleman. But it is all too early to speculate on the outcome of a general election.
The presidential and local elections will be a better marker.