Stephen And The Promiscuous Voter


2/2/2017 . Stephen Donnelly Joins Fianna Fail. Pictured (LTOR) Stephen Donnelly (Glasses) with Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin TD talking to the media outside Leinster House this afternoon after Stephen announced today he was joining Fianna Fail. He has been appointed the partys Front Spokeperson on Brexit. Photo: Sam Boal/


From top: Stephen Donnelly (left) and Micheá Martin; Derek Mooney

With the Stephen Donnelly ‘coup’ Fianna Fáil is not so much winning back the support of disgruntled ex-FF voters as it is convincing non-committed voters that it is the best option at the next election.

Derek Mooney writes:

Having used last week’s column to critique Enda Kenny’s leadership of Fine Gael, it is only fair that I use this week’s one to throw a jaundiced eye over Michéal Martin’s leadership of Fianna Fáil.

Around this time last year Martin was preparing to face his biggest political test as leader, the 2016 General election. Though we forget it now, the omens did not look so good at the time. A Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes opinion poll published on this date last year had Fianna Fáil on just 20%.

This was a far from auspicious start to an election campaign where most pundits and commentators were predicting a return of the outgoing Fine Gael/Labour government, although with a considerably reduced majority.

Fianna Fáil was set to make some gains, even a repeat of its disastrous 2011 performance could see it gain a few extra seats, the question though was whether it could win enough extra seats to make itself relevant.

Just one year on and the party’s position at the centre of Irish political is now far more secure than most imagined possible. Not alone that but Michéal Martin’s grip on leadership is by far the most secure of all the current party leaders: Enda Kenny has Leo and Simon C snapping at his heels. Brendan Howlin has Alan Kelly stalking the corridors while Gerry Adams has the past.

The past year has been a good one for Martin. His media performances have been convincing and he conveys the impression of a man who is on top of his game and happy to engage in public debate.

This positive feeling towards him has been reflected in his own approval rating and in his party’s slowly increasing polling numbers. Last week’s coup in winning Stephen Donnelly TD to FF’s Dáil benches further suggests that Martin’s Fianna Fáil is on a continuing upward trajectory.

Martin’s newest TD arrived fully on message. In the face of an understandable chorus of disapproval from the pundits for his own very cutting past criticisms of Fianna Fáil, Donnelly could construct a reasonable and coherent narrative for his joining the Soldiers of Destiny, offering two main reasons:

First, that he saw a party “going back to its social democratic roots, emphasising a stable tax base, support for business, investment in public services and communities, and a shared prosperity” and Second, that he has witnessed the party working hard over the past six years to move on.

There is, of course, a third reason: the fact that he sees Fianna Fáil as the party most likely to form the next government and Martin as a future Taoiseach.

Donnelly may be right, but Fianna Fáil still has a big test to face before these things become certain – and it seems that Martin see Donnelly as a key player in facing that test.

The decline in Fianna Fail’s support started long before 2011 or even 2009, it started at the end of the 90s as the Irish electorate started to change.

Fianna Fáil’s wins in 2002 and 2007 were not about Fianna Fáil simply rallying its voters out to back Bertie and back the party, they were about the increasing number of non-committed, non-party affiliated voters backing the party they saw as being the most economically competent.

This is why the fall in support in 2011 was so great – the decline in core support that had started in the 90s had been masked by an increase in we might term “promiscuous” support.

Fianna Fáil is not so much winning back the support of disgruntled ex FF voters as it is convincing non-committed voters that it is the best option at the next election.

There are some committed core supporters, as evidenced by 2011, but this traditional loyal pool of voters has been falling and it continues to fall. Fianna Fáil is not unique in this, it is happening everywhere and it a phenomenon that you cannot simply address with smarter graphics, bigger and better campaigns and stronger local organisation. Fine Gael is in the process of discovering this.

Post-election surveys, including the 2016 one, suggest that Fianna Fáil support is lower in the sections of society that are growing, i.e. younger voters and those with higher education.

This is a problem that the party needs to address now. It has succeeded to win back some support from older voters and some of its more traditional base, but to what extent did it actually win back that support as opposed to merely reaping the rewards of Fine Gael losing it?

Are Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – and perhaps the remnants of the Irish Labour party – caught in a political zero sum gain, where one party can only gain when the other party[s] lose?

I suspect the situation is not quite as dark as this and the combined support of the three parties has the capacity to grow and get back into the mid/high 60s, but it can only do so when we return to some sense of stability and faith in political and politicians begins to grow. This does not presume, however, that all three parties will continue – the lesson of the past decade is that there are no certainties.

In the meantime, Martin’s own immediate destiny is dependent on reaching out to educated voters and new voters and convincing them that Fianna Fáil capable of successfully managing the economy.

The addition of Stephen Donnelly and his positioning by Fianna Fáil over the past few days suggests that Martin gets it.

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


Earlier: For Your Consideration: The Day Stephen Donnelly Joined Foster and Allen



Ah here.

Thanks Antoine D’Alton

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32 thoughts on “Stephen And The Promiscuous Voter

  1. Jake38

    Meehole is a genius. 14 years as a minister doing absolutely nothing of any significance which could be held against him, surviving the economic meltdown which his party visited on the country for the 3rd time on 70 years, and now leading his party as sleeveen in chief back towards the promised land of patronage and power. It just shows how shallow the talent pool is.

          1. classter

            The smoking ban was a good move.

            It was also an act of political genius. The health system (you know the important thing about being Minister for Health) was not improved by Martin’s term of office but he has this massive distraction of the smoking ban instead.

  2. Willie Banjo

    An article that starts with “Having used last week’s column to critique Enda Kenny’s leadership of Fine Gael, it is only fair that I use this week’s one to throw a jaundiced eye over Michéal Martin’s leadership of Fianna Fáil” and ends with Michéal really gets what voters want.

    Not so much jaundiced eye but rather a brown nose.

    1. classter

      Ha yes, a jaundiced eye.

      ‘Martin gets it’
      ‘party’s position … far more secure than most imagined possible.’
      ‘Martin’s grip on leadership is by far the most secure’
      ‘media performances … convincing’
      ‘a man who is on top of his game’

      This is Mooney when he is pretending to be balanced & impartial?!

      1. bisted

        …Mooney can brown nose all he wants but he must realise that he is one of the old FFers that Mehole has long since distanced himself from…no way back for Derek or his ilk…whatever brown he gets on his nose it wont be gravy when the FF train sweeps back into power in the next election…

  3. cormacjones

    That whole article was a savage attack on Martin.
    Those people who accuse Mooney of being a FF stooge must be feeling pretty stupid right now.

  4. DubLoony

    Hopefully, the fall in core voters indicates that people are actually thinking about their vote, not just tribal loyalty.
    Saying that FF are going back to the social democratic roots is laughable.

    Twice in my lifetime they have decimated generations in the 80s and again in the collapse starting in 2007/08.
    As a country we are still dealing with the aftermath of the damage they did in government on both of those occasions.

    1. ironcorona

      I think it’s even worse than FF having caused decimation.

      FF were riding the coattails of an economic prosperity they had no hand in causing, and were incapable of any action to hold off the crash.

      They caused decimation by complete ignorance and failure to act.

  5. Ron

    Thankfully the staunch civil war Fianna Fail supporters are in decline. Ironically they are the ones now on hospital trollies in over crowded emergency departments waiting for a bed to die in.. but yet they still support them. Voter behaviour has changed radically in the last number of years. There is no long term loyalty anymore. Stephen Donnelly is going to learn this the hard way. Even he has been shocked by the extent of the negative fallout of his decision to give two fingers to the people who supported him.

    Fianna Fail are in for another rude awakening in the next general election. Sinn Fein will see more gains than most like to imagine.

    1. DubLoony

      I dunno. SF always promise more than they actually get. The collapse of NI govt, not actively campaigning on Brexit, the leadership coronation, plus Gerry just not going away, economic basket case that is NI all add up to a not a well functioning party. Am ignoring all the legacy stuff.

      The last 2 elections were abnormal, 2011 was a country in crisis with a collapse, 2016 was a country in crisis due to uneven recovery.
      Housing & Brexit most likely the hot topics for next one.

  6. Devine

    Neither Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour or Sinn Fein enjoy the confidence of well-educated people. These parties are political dinosaurs from a by-gone era and are not representative of Ireland going forward. They are the default beneficiaries of the absence of new parties emerging (or being kept out) to challenge the cartel which they enjoy over votes in a political system which they designed or largely created (FF, FG/LAB)

    Sinn Fein are a pathetic excuse for a party, and whereas they might some political rationale north of the border they are less than useless in the south. They offer nothing original and nothing which is forward thinking in terms of economics, constitutional, social or political reform. Put simply, they exist as a bin for the ignorant to cast their votes, much in the same way that Fianna Fail used to.

    1. Happy Molloy

      Thanks for speaking on behalf of the well educated people of Ireland.

      Who does represent us?

    2. Rob_G

      “They are the default beneficiaries of the absence of new parties emerging”

      I don’t know where you have been for the last few years, but there have been loads of new parties formed in the past few years (all of whom’s support lies somewhere in the single digits).

  7. Rob_G

    Also, I don’t particularly like Stephen Donnelly or FF, but could you not make fun of his ill thought-out policies or inconsistent positions rather than making fun of an aspect of his physical appearance?

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