From top: Stephen Donnelly (left) and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin; Noël Browne: Dan Boyle
Stephen Donnelly is discovering, like Noël Browne before him, that a big house offers little comfort.
Dan Boyle writes:
I’m beginning to despise my laptop. Far too much of my day is being spent tapping on on this accursed machine with its flickering screen. However a deadline is approaching, and my publisher has a realistic expectation that it will be met.
I’m writing an electoral history of others in Irish politics. I am aware that the literary world isn’t agog in awaiting this tome, but I’m hoping that it might tickle a particular interest.
I’m about 40% in, although I’m only at 1954. I’m expecting the writing will quicken once I enter my own lifespan, where I’m hoping I can mine more readily from personal experience.
When I tear myself away from the laptop, to check in with the real world (or at least that part that co-incides with Irish politics), I begin to understand why the loop theory of history has become prevalent.
The radio playing in the background accentuates the voice of Stephen Donnelly, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Brexit. He is being asked to square several circles at once.The question making him most uncomfortable is whether he would welcome Bertie Ahern’s return as a member of Fianna Fáil. He fights a tremor of horror entering his voice.
As he speaks I am writing of a previous Fianna Fáil coup in 1953. While in government, the party had managed to persuade three independent TDs (each of whom had been associated with other political parties) to become members of its parliamentary party.
The biggest catch was that of the mercurial Noël Browne, late of Clann na Poblachta, and still bruised by his Mother and Child Scheme experience. With him he brought his former Clann colleague, Michael ffrench O’Carroll. The third inductee was the one time Deputy Leader of Clann na Talmhan, Patrick Cogan.
Listening to Stephen Donnelly I think of how much he fits the Noel Browne mould of political capriciousness. Could others follow the path he has embarked upon?
On thinking this, I read of a web rumour that Fianna Fáil is attempting to persuade Social Democrat Gary Gannon to contest the next general election, on its behalf. Gannon came close to winning the final seat in Dublin Central, the closest the Social Democrats had come to winning a new seat in the 2016 elections.
There is a logic in Fianna Fáil making this approach. It would help with its internal machinations, by keeping the pro Bertie faction in Dublin Central at bay. The fly in the ointment would be Gannon himself. Is he welcoming this approach? Fianna Fáil logic would argue why not. After all Stephen Donnelly has already been persuaded.
That Fianna Fáil logic is also to try to do these things in threes. Its formula in 1953 was to assemble two Clann na Poblachta recruits to one Clann na Talmhan acceptee. Could a 2017 formula be two Social Democrats to one Renua refugee?
Having been elected a Fianna Fáil councillor, Patrick McKee, was convinced to become a Renua by election candidate in Carlow/Kilkenny, where he performed quite creditably. He did less well in the 2016 general election. By the end of the year he had left Renua to become an independent. Surely a reconciliation with Fianna Fáil is in order.
It would be in keeping with the pinch of left, pinch of right stirring of the stew in its proverbial slow cooker, Fianna Fáil has always adopted.
What of our intrepid trio from 1953? All stood as Fianna Fáil candidates in the 1954 general election. None were elected.Patrick Cogan (who like Stephen Donnelly represented Wicklow) would serve one further term as a Senator. Noel Browne would come back to serve another quarter of a century (under three different labels) in Irish public life. Forsaking politics all together, Michael ffrench O’Carroll moved to Cork, where he became intrinsic to the development of addiction services there.
There are two lessons here. One is that the bigger house does not necessarily offer greater comfort. The second is that, in the real world, the labels we are given rarely define us.