In the aftermath of Averil Power's departure from Fianna Fáil, Tomas Heneghan argues that there is a clear old-new rift running through the party.
Another week, another power slip for Fianna Fáil. Once they ruled the world - or at least Leinster House’s world - but now when you’re in, you can get out just as quickly.
This week saw the departure of yet another two Fianna Fáil politicians, putting the count at three councillors and two senators out this year alone.
Unlike Fine Gael’s mass exodus two years ago, where Enda gave the boot to several of his own TDs and senators, Fianna Fáil’s fleeing masses left of their own accord. Enda’s rebels, having finally rebranded themselves, even managed to woo one of Fianna Fáil’s worker-bees away.
Averil Power’s stride out the door of her former home of 20 years put on show a new level of cracks in the party. This was not an easily dismissible tantrum over the upcoming general election and not getting put on the party ticket. Power aired for the country the old-new rift running through Fianna Fáil.
Focus this week was on the marriage referendum and the role Fianna Fáil played in securing a win for the shiny new 34th Amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann. Indeed there was an issue there.
Having done quite the bit of travelling around our little island over the past two months, I came across Labour, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, Anti Austerity Alliance and People Before Profit posters in most places. The notable missing poster outside of Dublin was Fianna Fáil.
This is not to say party members hid away and were not active in the campaign - they probably were - but their activity was under the banner of the broader Yes Equality group. And without posters how could anyone, outside the Pale, be certain of Fianna Fáil’s stance on marriage equality?
Ógra Fianna Fáil did of course also support a Yes vote in the referendum, but as reported on Campus.ie last week, even this was not as widespread as some may have thought.
The marriage referendum spat however shines a much more important light on the wider split in direction for the party. There has been, for some time, an internal battle over the older Fianna Fáil and its newer incarnation - a battle often fought out under the glare of the media.
Over the past year the old guard has publicly declared it is not a mere remnant of the disastrous property bubble. It was back in the game and it’s not going to fight for that quietly.
From Mary Hanafin’s stance of defiance against HQ prior to last year’s local council elections, to two former ministers being added to the election ticket in the past week, it’s clear retirement is far from the minds of many in Fianna Fáil.
The party has spent over four years trying to rebrand itself though. For old Fianna Fáil to stay in the public conscious could be the downfall of the party again.
With that came the “fresh” baby-faced Ógra prodigies. They would be new, shiny and more liberal. They would understand what Ireland needed and the priorities of the country’s emigrating youth.
But Fianna Fáil is a conservative party - tradition dictates that. Fianna Fáil must then decide who it wants the public to see? What are the popular stances which reflect public opinion?
However there remains no appeasement for older Fianna Fáil and their seniority wins out, especially with a leader many predict could be the first Fianna Fáil boss never to be Taoiseach.
How does such a leader then impose the obligation on TDs and senators to go door-to-door for any referendum, especially one they might not necessarily agree with - or one which could cost them votes in their constituencies?
Averil, no doubt, saw this lack of strong leadership and the return of the old guard as an oncoming crash. Instead of grabbing the bucket of popcorn and enjoying the show unravel, she jumped ship, and who could blame her? The party, in principle, was firmly behind gender quotas, doing business differently and marriage equality.
A disagreement last year between Micheál Martin and Averil over gender quotas may well have been a predictor for Averil’s recent departure. As she said herself though, the marriage referendum was the last straw. Ironically the party’s other former senator, Jim Walsh removed himself from Martin’s dictats because he refused to publicly support the same-sex marriage.
What does this all mean for Fianna Fáil? As it stands, it’s both simple and complicated. The party needs to decide if it wants to be new, young and liberal or old and conservative - that’s the simple part.
Actually making that decision is the difficult side of the coin. Is the loss of one Power enough to jolt a decision from party leadership, or must the power shortage continue?
If indeed bad things come in three, Fianna Fáil may be set for another minor exodus of political heads before the next election. It’s decision time Micheál.