A Brief History of The FG Heave

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16/01/2014. Launch Online Of Military Service Material (1916-1923). Pictured (LtoR) An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and Commanding Officer P.Kennedy in charge of the Military Archives at the launch for the first time of Online Of Military Service Material (1916-1923) in the GPO in Dublin this evening. The Military Services Pensions Archive project is a conerstone in the Government Decade of Centenaries 2012-2022 Commemorative programme and the collection numbers of almost 300,000 application files for pensions. Photo: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

derek

From top: Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny with Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave at an event in the GPO in Dublin in 2014; Derek Mooney

This heave is different or at least it appears different. Unlike heaves of the past it has been occasioned by an actual political event,

Derek Mooney writes:

No one does heaves like Fine Gael does heaves. None of your subtle behind the scenes manoeuvring for them. When it comes to getting political blood on the plush Axminster the good folks at Fine Gael are major exhibitionists.

They have had plenty of heaves over the past forty years or so: most of them ill-judged, poorly timed and glaringly unsuccessful. The December 1972 heave against Liam Cosgrave is a good example of all three.

Fine Gael’s liberal wing wanted rid of the conservative, law and order Cosgrave. They complained that the party had failed under his leadership to capitalise on Fianna Fáil’s post Arms Crisis trials and tribulations, but the final straw was Cosgrave’s efforts to get FG TDs to back the government’s controversial Offences Against the State Bill – something they implacably opposed.

Cosgrave was effectively saved from the plotters by a loyalist bomb on Sackville Place that tragically killed two CIE busmen. The explosion took place just hours before the Dáil vote on the Bill. The Dáil adjourned to allow discussion between the parties.

When it resumed, Fine Gael withdrew its opposition and abstained as Bill was voted through in an all-night sitting. Three months later Cosgrave became Taoiseach leading Fine Gael into government with the Labour Party.

Fast forward to 1980s and 1990s and we enter the golden age of the Fine Gael heave. The drama and intrigue within the Fine Gael parliamentary party was so intense that RTÉ ran a TV documentary series in 2003 about the period entitled: Fine Gael: A Family at War.

For about two decades the folks in blue were regularly sharpening their knives as they awaited the opportunity to dispatch their leaders. While Dr Garret Fitzgerald managed to escape their clutches his successor, Alan Dukes, had a less happy fate.

Dukes took over from Fitzgerald after the 1987 defeat. While he started out well, Duke’s Tallaght Strategy – a less formalised precursor of the current Confidence and Supply Agreement, which facilitated Haughey’s minority government – was not too popular with FG TDs.

One TD, Austin Deasy, was so incensed that he at first resigned in protest from the party only to return in 1989 and try, unsuccessfully, to oust Dukes. Deasy was a serial heaver, launching his first one first against Garret in 1982 and finishing up with his failed November 2000 one against John Bruton.

Dukes survived, but not for long. In a snap election in June 1989, Fine Gael regained only 5 of the 19 seats they lost two years earlier. The whispering campaign against Dukes was back with a vengeance with one back bencher remarking that if it was raining soup Dukes would be out there with a fork.

Things came to a head in late 1990 when the party’s candidate in the presidential election came a very poor third behind Mary Robinson and Brian Lenihan Snr.The result had hardly been declared when Fergus O’Brien, who had been demoted by Dukes, tabled a motion of no confidence.

This was followed by a flurry of Fine Gael TDs rushing to the nearest journalist to unburden themselves. Dukes could not withstand the onslaught. Within days he resigned and was succeeded by John Bruton.

Now the Fine Gael heavers shifted into top gear. It seemed as if there was a heave brewing every few months.

Bruton survived five leadership contests during his eleven years at the top. The sixth one, in January 2001, led by two political heavy weights Jim Mitchell and Michael Noonan succeeded in toppling him. Noonan took the top job, beating Enda Kenny, but his reign was short lived. FG’s defeat in the May 2002 election was so calamitous that Noonan resigned on the night of the count. He was succeeded by Enda Kenny.

As you can see from these examples and the June 2010 heave against Enda outlined in my Enda’s 3am question is still unanswered Broadsheet column: most of them fail. The ones that do succeed have the oblique backing of the person who hopes to succeed and are usually attempted when the party is in opposition – not in government.

This later point is perhaps not so relevant today. Fine Gael spent most of the 80s and 90s in opposition and were not in office long enough to have the time to consider it. It was these long periods of opposition – and powerlessness – that led to the heaves. The breaking point, in most cases, being a bad election result or a series of poor opinion poll results.

This heave is different or at least it appears different. Unlike heaves of the past it has been occasioned by an actual political event, namely the chronic mishandling of the Sgt McCabe debacle and the confusion about who told who said what and when and if they told the Taoiseach or just one of his Advisers.

But it would be foolish to think that electoral considerations are not also a major factor.
While Enda Kenny has made it clear that he does not intend to lead his party into the next election, the abiding fear among Fine Gael TDs was that events would overtake them and that Fianna Fáil would pull down the house of cards before Enda quits and they find themselves facing an election with Enda still in place.

Up to a few weeks ago, they assumed that Fianna Fáil was neither ready nor willing to trigger an election until 2018 – but a series of good polls for Micheál Martin’s soldiers of destiny has convinced already rattled Fine Gael TDs that Fianna Fáil was preparing itself to call time on the government.

The problem with this scenario is that it shows Fine Gaelers thinking like Fine Gaelers, not like Fianna Fáilers. Fianna Fáil knows well that voters tend not to reward parties who trigger unnecessary elections for partisan gain.

Martin’s FF eschews the “cute hoor” tag that once bedevilled the party. When it eventually moves against the government it will be seen clearly do so on an issue of policy, not personality or partisan gain.

On a more practical front, 20 of Fianna Fáil’s 45 TDs are first timers. They are just starting to settle in after two or three years of intense campaigning to win those seats. They are not ready or prepared for an election yet. Most are now watching the turmoil in the FG ranks and trying to work out whether the election of Simon or Leo – or neither – means the election will be in May, June, September or later.

Meanwhile the rest should reach for the popcorn, scan our WhatApp to see if Charlie Flanagan is messaging us and just enjoy it all.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Monday. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

22 thoughts on “A Brief History of The FG Heave

  1. Observer

    It was pretty amazing to listen to FFers talk about this inept heave, etc at the weekend.

    Its like they forgot the time when Brian Cowen was Taoiseach and they spent the year that the country was going down the toilet bickering over who would captain the Titanic. Only to eventually conclude that Cowen could sink the ship and Martin (who lacked the bottle to actually ever go against Cowen) only stepped forward then.

        1. Kieran NYC

          As much as your fake sincerity is touching, I want Enda gone as much as anyone. He should have gone before the last general election.

  2. joak joke jik

    a few questions
    – say Veruca wins the FG leadership, presumably he has to go to the Park to become Taoiseach. will there have to be a Dáil vote on this? will FF abstain?

    – does SF’s motion of no confidence mean that there can be no motion of no confidence in Veruca also for six months? or does it start afresh?

    – are the Inds likely to play ball with Veruca?

    – could Veruca, say, ask Lab or the SDs or the Greens to join the coalition? like surely he won’t want to be beholden to FF at all?

      1. Harry Molloy

        “hopefully it will catch on and will make me feel like I did something good when I see people use it on the journal and abusive Facebook posts”

      2. jambon

        Would you ever just pop off your mortal coil there, you are clearly an FG shill and all your presence here does is make people feel further abhorrence for the dorky litter warden-populated party you so love defending. Go on, now, go …

        1. Rob_G

          I genuinely feel sorry for you for the fact that you seem to be suggesting that I kill myself for having the temerity to point out that a commentator was making fun of a man from a different ethnicity, I really, really do.

          1. Rob_G

            Nope – I have voted for them, and would certainly vote for them at present, but have never felt strongly enough about any political party to want to join them.

  3. cuilleog

    Unless 5 FG TDs have unexpectedly resigned, don’t they have 50, rather than the 45 that your columnist says?

      1. Harry Molloy

        mehole has been around for ages, you need to think of a new play on a politicians name, see Veruca above for inspiration

  4. GenerationScrewed

    New Fianna Fail TDs settling in? That’s a good one.

    Nothing to do with having to be there two years to get pension rights. No sir!

  5. Kenny Plank

    Why oh why, BS, do you publish this stuff? Just because Village Magazine wouldn’t even take it for free, doesn’t mean it needs to be inflicted on the rest of us.

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