iFianna Fáil + SDLP: a marriage made in heaven or a ghastly team-up?


The Times of London used to be known as The Thunderer, because of its lofty views on the various issues of the day. The Irish Times   (and to be fair, most papers – even The Irish News/VO)  have an editorial column) that expresses its opinion on the goings-on in the world. Except in no case is it the newspaper talking, just some people paid to write the official line.

So today The Irish Times gives us its views on the proposed merger of Fianna Fáil and the SDLP. As usual, The Irish Times sees many positive factors while sounding a note of warning.

The positive thing The Irish Times spots is, of course, that this new amalgam would be or could be a challenge to Sinn Féin at the local and European elections. The fact that Stormont isn’t functioning will further enhance the prospects of the two parties.

A little ominously, the editorial goes on to suggest that the merger move would “also involve other figures from the constitutional nationalist tradition in an attempt to ensure there is no friction between the Fianna Fáil and SDLP camp.” Which admits that the merger, as all mergers, will inevitably involve some people on both sides feeling that their status, their particular little fiefdom is under threat. Who these “other figures from the constitutional nationalist tradition” are is another question. Maybe they mean Bertie Ahern? Seamus Mallon? If so, I’ll leave it to you as to whether such intervention would smooth ruffled feathers or serve as the kiss of death to this exciting new project.

The Irish Times notes that “an injection of financial and organisational muscle from Fianna Fáil could make a difference.”  The paper then quickly hedges its bets, conceding that “ sensitive handling of SDLP concerns will be vital.”  In other words, the IT doesn’t know whether the merger will work or not.

Neither do I, but I don’t mind making a prediction, because I have lived through a merger myself. A couple of decades and more ago, the Ulster Polytechnic in which I worked merged with what was then the New University of Ulster to become the University of Ulster. (Yes indeed, Virginia, New to Not New does sound counter-intuitive). The merger required that staff from Jordanstown move to teach in Coleraine. I was one of them and I didn’t mind at all. But there was a substantial body of staff who swore they’d never set foot in a Colerain lecture hall, who at joint meetings of the two institutions were as uncooperative as possible. There were NUU people who looked down their noses at working with staff from a mere Poly, and Jordanstown people who resented having to save a waning and mislocated NUU. One Jordanstown staff member described the merger as “like being strapped to a corpse.”

This, of course, wouldn’t describe the Fianna Fáil-SDLP merger. For a start, the SDLP is not a corpse – it’s just an organization that is well on its way to total and permanent collapse. For its part Fianna Fáil is the Lazarus of Irish politics: it knows what it’s like to have been in the tomb a few years back, and it has no intention of returning there, come what may.

Is the SDLP a valuable addition to the FF machine? Only in that it’ll mean the FFers, who’ve shown all the interest of a ten-days-dead trout in working for the realization of a real Irish republic, will be able to claim that Sinn Féin isn’t the only all-Ireland party. But can you see many voters abandoning the Sinn Féin party and turning to the promise of the new Fianna Fáil? Or Shinner-voters turning from the SF party, giving their votes to this new and shiny rare pair in northern and southern politics?

I’ve always been a fifth-rate reader of the future but this one looks easy to call: joining with Fianna Fáil won’t increase the numbers presently voting for a dying SDLP, and for Fianna Fail, joining with the SDLP will be a distraction and a doomed attempt to out-republican the Shinners.

It looks suspiciously like the two parties figure that if they don’t hang together, they’ll hang separately. Or maybe somewhere in the unhappy innards of both parties there is a dark and unpleasant death wish. I mean, would you lend money to Fianna Fáil, or send the SDLP on a message to the corner store?

Watch this electoral pace.






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