This year, 2022, will be a pivotal year for Fianna Fáil. Covid and Brexit have become less burdensome, but the challenges of the Ukraine-Russia conflict remain appalling. Aside from the humanitarian nightmare, there are implications for inflation, resource shortages, and for our food and farming communities, wheat and fertilizer shortages. The government is already preparing as it should, is tackling the issues and will be engaging with the agriculture and food sectors to address this disaster.
While these issues need to be addressed, the party needs focus this year to face the future. Fianna Fáil must use what is left of this final year at the helm of government to define and act on what she stands for before Fine Gael steps in.
Feedback from the 2020 general election was that Fianna Fáil lacked identity – that the party’s mission and vision were unclear, having had its finger on people’s pulse in the past. In government, she finds it difficult to differentiate herself from Fine Gael and the Greens.
But the reality is, if Fianna Fáil wants to have a future, she needs to realize what she stands for now rather than what it has stood for in the past. The party agrees. A commission on Fianna Fáil’s aims and objectives was appointed by Micheál Martin last October. James Lawless chairs and consults extensively within the party. At our ard fheis this summer, the results of this work will be debated by all of us, finally in person instead of just online.
In my opinion, Fianna Fáil needs to simplify what it stands for. In his interesting book The Rise and Fall of Fianna FáilKevin Boland writes that when the party began, it was the original basic goals that set it apart and gave it its character as a national movement rather than a mere political party.
These goals were then unity; putting the nation’s wealth to work for the people; that Ireland would be economically independent and self-sufficient; raise as many families as possible in the countryside; promoting the ruralization of industries as opposed to their concentration in cities; restore the Irish language; and to implement the left-leaning democratic program of the then-first Dáil.
Although much has changed in the 100 years since then – the troubles in Northern Ireland, EU membership, the arrival of multinationals – it is worrying how far we have fallen short of the original targets that are still relevant today. The debate within the party must now remain as simple as the original seven goals. In this Instagram age, our original leaders were ahead of the curve by keeping things short and simple, using as few words as possible, and creating cheerful images for the mind.
These intentions and goals were clear at the time. For whatever reason, Fianna Fail has at times lost clarity about her mission and vision in the 100 years since. Some of this is due to events, some from losing focus, some from having to change your aspirations.
My own view is that these original goals are not missed and just need to be made relevant for the 21st century. Our core values need to be reformulated in the context of where the party began. The unity and independence of Ireland is as important today as it was a century ago. The story of Fianna Fáil has always been closely linked to Ireland’s economic future and place in the world. Fianna Fáil must shape her future by charting an economic roadmap for this island to the north and south, while also defining our global role.
The original goal of creating the nation’s wealth and resources for the people comes into focus as we consider the current energy crisis. The people are under tremendous pressure because we have not put the nation’s resources to work for the people.
Our small country has an enormous opportunity due to its westernmost location – offshore wind, deep sea ports and now record tax revenues. In our two years in government we have failed to prevent massive increases in energy prices and have stood by idly by on this issue.
We must reframe Fianna Fáil and government policies to tap into our natural resources to provide our own people with an affordable, clean form of energy for the future. This also fits in with the original goal of making Ireland self-contained and self-sufficient. Offshore wind has the capacity to give us a new industry that in two decades will be the same size as the entire Irish economy. The economies of Northern Ireland and the West could be transformed by offshore wind.
Establishing as many families as possible in the countryside and stopping the concentration of industry in the cities is in turn promoted by creating its own energy industry. If we limit the consumption and export of energy, we can rejuvenate the areas outside the big cities and create good, high-paying jobs in the most remote areas. Being green creates the opportunities for us as a country that have already begun with the impact of Covid-19 on living and working remotely.
Our goals for the next decade must also reconsider the policies of the past. The modern challenge of free education initiated by Fianna Fáil is child care and pre-school education.
Fianna Fáil must use the resources that come from offshore wind energy to invest in free, government-subsidized childcare and quality pre-school education. The Irish language too needs to be restored to the goals originally set, after a century of British attempts to eradicate it.
Fianna Fáil should not shy away from the difficult issues of housing, health, energy, childcare, unification and public service accountability in this debate about her goals. Nowhere is accountability more important than in healthcare, and we must accept once and for all that the competing structures are not working. The Department of Health and the HSE need to be restructured. Instead of playing one and marking the other, they should be restructured based on acute and community needs.
Almost 100 years after the core messages that launched a movement, to better thrive in this social media age, the party now needs courage, simplicity and sincerity.
Barry Cowen is a Fianna Fáil TD for Laois-Offaly
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/lets-look-to-our-founders-to-restore-fianna-fails-identity-and-vision-41466379.html Let’s turn to our founders to restore Fianna Fáil’s identity and vision