This column appeared on Broadsheet at the end of January 2019. The full original version can be viewed here. This is a shortened version which looks only at Fianna Fáil’s upcoming Dublin European Selection Convention.
Within Dublin the race for the Fianna Fáil party nomination will be critical. On the surface it looks like a four-way competition but, to be brutally frank, the choice is binary.
In Column A you have Tiernan Brady, who many of you may know as an equality campaigner from his leadership in the Irish and Australian marriage equality campaigns.
And if you think Tiernan is not the kind of candidate you would expect Fianna Fáil candidate to field, well think again – because Tiernan is as dyed in the wool Fianna Fáil as any candidate the party has produced over the past decade.
I first met Tiernan back in 1992 when he was one of the Kevin Barry UCD Cumann members who came in to help Ben Briscoe TD on the (in)famous 10 day “long count” to decide the last seat in Dublin South Central – an event referred to by Ben at the time as “The Agony and the Ex TD”.
While Tiernan has followed the same political paths as others: elected as a Fianna Fáil county councillor, serving two terms, including some years as Mayor of Bundoran, running Dáil election campaigns for Pat (the Cope) Gallagher and former Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, Tiernan has gone beyond them and seen that the way to change things is to reach beyond your own traditional confines and loyalties.
Across from Tiernan, in Column B, you have three former ministers, each seeking a return to national politics after some time away though, to be fair to Mary Hanafin she did get back into local politics as a councillor for Blackrock in 2014.
All three former ministers, each carrying a family name with strong political associations: Barry Andrews, Mary Hanafin and Conor Lenihan have not just proved their capabilities as Ministers, they each have admirable ministerial records in their respective portfolios: Lenihan in international development, Barry Andrews in Children’s rights and Mary Hanafin in Education. Not alone that, all three are decent media performers, some perhaps more colourfully so than others.
On this basis it can be argued that the Fianna Fáil in Dublin cannot avoid picking a strong candidate, but – and this is why I lump the three ex-ministers together and describe the choice as binary – the perceived strengths of the three amigos is also their collective weakness.
Reading the campaign emails and social media posts announcing their candidacies, it was easy to mistake one for the other. Each claimed their time as a minister, their Dáil experience and their recognised family name as a unique qualification to run, but the “unique” strengths which they each see as defining them barely separates them.
It is 15 years since Fianna Fáil last won a European Parliament seat in Dublin with Eoin Ryan (in 2004). That is a long time.
If Fianna Fáil wants to win a seat in Dublin this time – and it needs to – then it must reach out beyond its existing hinterland and attract voters who not have seen Fianna Fáil as speaking to or for them. Only one of the candidates on offer has the proven ability to do this.
The seat will not be won by nostalgically getting the old band back together to play some favourites – no matter how much some of us may care for the tune.
The choice is clear.