My column from today’s Evening Herald on Éamon Ó Cuiv’s Craggy Island Act
If you think Fine Gael or Labour party backbenchers have it tough; spare a thought for Fianna Fáil’s sole backbencher: Éamon Ó Cuiv. He has been rarely out of the headliners since quitting as his party’s deputy leader and communications spokesperson.
Though he served as a Minister for the duration of the 1997 – 2010 Fianna Fáil led governments, it took a few disloyal acts as a back bencher to bring him to some form of public fame.
His newly found rebellious streak comes as a bit of a shock to those who remember his ministerial days, particularly his almost eight year stint as Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
That department’s acronym (D/CRGA), coupled with his peculiarly laconic style, earned it the title Craggy Island during his tenure – though whether this was a reference to Fr Jack, Fr Ted Crilly or Fr Dougal was never fully established.
His reinvention as a latter day rebel is not his first metamorphosis. Despite his Man of Aran manner and demeanour he actually hails from the leafy and affluent, Dublin 4. His success at portraying himself as the archetypal westerner possibly owes as much to his lineage as it does to his conscious efforts.
His excellent track record as a public representation in West Galway, has gained him much respect in the party: almost as much as his position as Dev’s grandson.
This is the Catch 22 he seemed to have missed. While the reduction in the size of the parliamentary party has made him a bigger player, the cachet his political heritage confers is also somewhat diminished. The events of the past few years have reduced the currency value of dynasties in the new leaner Fianna Fáil. Isn’t the concept of dynasty incompatible with a truly republican party?
His outspoken comments on Europe, urging the party to a more Tory-esque euro sceptic position have not been the rallying cry he may have hoped for. Many share his view that Europe has not been working together in partnership or solidarity. They see that Europe’s “failure to act decisively and cohesively damaged its reputation and standing amongst its own citizens”. But they do not see voting No as the logical or sane answer to that problem.
I put that last line in quotes as, significantly, it does comes not from an Ó Cuiv speech, but rather from Michael Martin’s February 9th address to Institute for International and European Affairs, Dublin.
Ó Cuiv’s belief that he is the lone voice criticising the EU does not stand up. Despite his contentions, voting Yes does not require one to draw a veil over the glaring flaws in what the EU have done in addressing the European banking and economic crisis.
While many in the party may be prepared to allow him the occasional euro-sceptic outburst, they draw a definite line at his idea that Fianna Fáil should be cosying up to Sinn Féin. That is simply not on the table for the vast majority of the party’s public representatives at national and local level.
While some see Ó Cuiv’s grá for such an arrangement as a product of the shinner’s relative weakness in his bailiwick, others suggest it exposes his ill-founded, romantic notions of reuniting republicanism.
The Shinner’s provo-ism is the antithesis of Fianna Fáil’s republicanism. The two strands are simply incompatible and have been for generations. For Ó Cuiv to imagine that they are reconcilable does a disservice to those who adhered to the constitutional republican path and underestimates the ambitions of those who espoused the provo alternative
The irony is that Ó Cuiv’s truculence runs counter to the approach his grandfather adopted. Dev believed that being an elected representative of a political party brought responsibility and required discipline. The party decided its policies behind closed doors and everyone stuck to the party line, whether they personally agreed with it or not.
While there is no desire to grant Ó Cuiv the martyrdom that some think he seeks, he may yet force their hand and find himself banished to a Craggy Island of his own making.
May 4th 2012