A year of underperformance from Fianna Fáil

Emma Nevin

It’s been a year since the 33rd Dáil was elected and Fianna Fáil have transitioned from being disappointed about their underperformance in the election, to disappointing the nation with their underperformance in government.

It feels like ancient history since that memorable RTÉ exit poll flashed the nation’s TV screens late on February 8th last year, leaving behind the two party system Ireland was accustomed to, with Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael sharing almost equal popularity among the electorate.

Three certainly is a crowd, and it didn’t take long for one to be flushed down the drain. 

One October poll put Fianna Fáil at a dismal 9 per cent. They have managed to scrounge support back, with the most recent Business Post poll boosting them to 16 per cent, but they are still miles behind Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, who are polling at 29 per cent and 27 per cent respectively.

It’s easy to see why support for the party may have fallen while Sinn Féin retains its popularity. Simply put, Micheál Martin and his TD’s are in Government during an unprecedented global pandemic, with Sinn Féin able to scrutinise every wrong decision from opposition benches.

However, Fine Gael, who are in Government and just as responsible for pandemic policy as their coalition partners, have unexpectedly flourished.

One certain reason for this: Varadkar has managed to keep his house in order, while Fianna Fáil currently can’t grasp the meaning of “united front”.

Fianna Fáil TD’s have publicly criticised Martin and his Cabinet on numerous occasions. 

Speaking to the Irish Examiner in January, Kilkenny TD John McGuinness “complimented the Cabinet on its consistency on making a balls of things every week”. Barry Cowen has also said the majority of the party do not want Martin to lead them into the next election.

It’s difficult for the Taoiseach to legitimize himself as a strong leader of the country if his own party is publicly torching him. 

Contrast this with Fine Gael, who’s leader has not been immune to negative media attention either. The confidential document leak, albeit a serious situation which attracted a lot of media and opposition attention, did not result in any Fine Gael TD’s throwing their leader under the bus, which strengthened Varadkar’s and thus the party’s position. 

Another reason for the disparity between the pair in the polls is that Fianna Fáil are possessing Ministries that are most affected by the pandemic, and placed two of the party’s lesser seasoned TD’s in them.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Minister for Education Norma Foley are two of the most analysed politicians in the country at the moment, as vaccination roll out and the issue of school closures and Leaving Cert 2021 dominate headlines. 

Foley’s inexperience has been highlighted numerous times, most notably last month when she and the unions went to war over school re-openings. However, a good call last week on announcing a choice for this years leaving cert students may prove beneficial to her in the long term.

While Donnelly certainly doesn’t lack confidence, his tendency to over promise and under deliver is doing some damage.

The Minister is the definition of “all talk and no action.” In August, he announced that random testing in airports would be introduced, though this never materialised. He told the Dáil recently that every adult in the country should be vaccinated by September, but backtracked on this soon after.

Fianna Fáil’s best bet is for the coalition to last its full term, so Fine Gael’s rotation of the Taoiseach’s office is dominated by post-pandemic economic recovery. If the public are dissatisfied with Varadkar’s path back to pre-Covid times, perhaps Martin and his TD´s will salvage some of their seats in the next election.

Emma Nevin

Image Credit: Micheal Martin Twitter