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36th amendment

'Ireland shedding its old skin', but will that include Fianna Fáil?

While the celebrations were all about women, when the dust settles, there will be a political aftermath to deal with.

yes campaign 921_90544588 Sam Boal Sam Boal

THE ONLY PARTY whose members favoured a No vote, according to the RTÉ exit poll, was Fianna Fáíl.

Why is that significant? The parliamentary party itself is split on the issue, and it shows there is a gulf between the soldiers of destiny and wider public opinion.

A breakdown of the supporters of political parties and how they voted is as follows:

  • Fine Gael 74.9% Yes
  • Fianna Fáil 50.3% No
  • Sinn Féín 74.5% Yes
  • Labour 80% Yes
  • Solidarity-People Before Profit 82.1%
  • Social Democrats 89.5%
  • Green Party 88% Yes
  • Independents 72% Yes

While Fine Gael led the way in terms of being aligned with the public vote, followed by Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil’s 50% is at total odds with the 66.4% Yes vote nationwide.

Fianna Fáil, which has spent decades in power since the foundation of the State, appears to have lost touch with the public mood.

The party pinned it’s colours to the mast on the issue of abortion last year when party members voted overwhelmingly to protect the Eighth Amendment at their Ard Fhéis.

Then there was a Citizens Assembly, the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, and it soon emerged that the party had a problem on its hands.

As the referendum campaign geared up, 31 Fianna Fáil TDs and senators gathered in Dublin’s Merrion Square holding ‘Vote No’ posters.

That’s more than half of the parliamentary party.

Those 31 politicians had an opinion different to their party leader, Micheál Martin, who came out early on in the campaign. A u-turn – he now favoured repealing the Eighth Amendment.

It has done Martin no harm though. Before yesterday’s results were revealed, there was a lot of talk about “mutterings” in the party about his leadership, with some speculating that his dissenting view was working against him.

Today, it’s clear he backed the right horse. His leadership can’t be challenged by those who did not. And those on the front and back benches will have to join him in the battle to drag their party into the 21st century.

It will be no easy task for the Cork TD. Despite deputies telling that after this week’s vote the party will come together again, that is easier said than done.

There is a bigger issue too. How did so many of them get it so wrong? Usually the party of populism, TDs who said they were against repealing the Eighth said they were doing so as they were representing the views of their constituents. From yesterday’s overwhelming Yes result in all counties, bar one, this is clearly not the case.

Standing out on its own, the party, in comparison to others, has judged the mood of the people utterly wrong.

In an interview with this website, Martin said that as a legislator, he had his own views on abortion, but his job is to represent the people that elected him, and do what is right for society. He urged his party members to do the same, but the message appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

As we approach the final Budget in the three-year deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, speculation will pick up about when there will be a general election.

Leo Varadkar is doing well in the polls – so some believe he would be wise to go to push the button now. Others state that this ‘Theresa May’ move will result in him being punished by the electorate.

And then there is Sinn Féin. Mary Lou’s Sinn Fein. With a leader who has just received a boost in popularity (passing out Martin and trailing slightly behind Varadkar), the party is a real threat to Fianna Fáil’s position as the main Opposition.

But can Fianna Fáil realistically knock on the doors of voters now? Eamon Ó Cúiv believes it won’t be a problem.

It doesn’t seem to affect things on the ground. There’s interesting precedent of that from the past… what happens in a referendum doesn’t seem to have any impact on general elections. If you ask me if I am quaking in my shoes that my seat’s gone then not particularly.

“The other thing is this, if you take a five-seater, I presume 30% in Galway West voted on the no side – that’s two quotas.”

Solidarity-People Before Profit’s Ruth Coppinger isn’t convinced, telling that Fianna Fáil is “living in a different timezone”.

“I think the fact that one of the biggest parties in the State has shown itself to be so removed from the population, with over half of its TDs coming out for a no vote and actually getting involved in a quite reactionary campaign – I think they have serious questions to answer. The Dail in my opinion is a bastion of conservatism in my opinion in comparison to the population, but Micheál Martin has a particular problem.”

Martin previously said that TDs that voted No would back the legislation, if it is the will of the people, and that is exactly what Fianna Fáil TDs were out saying yesterday, with the deputy leader, and No voter, Dara Calleary, saying he would vote for the legislation to proceed through the Houses.

Mary Butler, one of the strongest voices on the No side, also said she wouldn’t harm legislation or filibuster during the process.

Cork South–Central TD Michael McGrath, who also campaigned for a No vote, said he will not block the Bill on the termination of pregnancy.

“I don’t intend to oppose or block the legislation,” he said. “The people have spoken emphatically. It’s now going to have to be given effect in the Oireachtas.

“While it may not have been a vote directly on the Government’s Bill, people voted in full knowledge of what the bill contains. I think in effect it is an endorsement of the Government’s bill,” he added.

“We are seeing old Ireland shedding its skin,” Coppinger said yesterday. Whether that skin is Fianna Fáil, we’ll have to wait for the next election.

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