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Posts by eamodonnelly
Now that the campaign for the FCT is in its final days, at the end of this process we will see whether the efforts of Fianna Fáil canvassers up and down the country will have resonated with the electorate, and indeed with traditional Fianna Fáil supporters. We have seen public and internal debate on our own party’s position on Europe, which was a healthy sign that the Fianna Fáil party is still very much alive and kicking in terms of policy debate and internal democracy. In the end, majority ruled, and those on the other side of the debate have done the honourable thing and accepted that decision, and are still very much an active part of Fianna Fáil. The one thing that seems to unite all sides is that keeping a tighter control on spending is a positive thing – to write it into the Constitution was an issue.
However, after this treaty, a situation may arise that may propose further European integration in return for Eurobonds, tax harmonisation or indeed federalisation of debt. This will yet again bring the debate on Europe to the fore. Fianna Fáil will have to search deep within it’s soul to find guiding principles from it’s own history and indeed forefathers to ensure that it follows the traditions of the party.
The party’s traditions are best encapsulated within the Fianna Fáil constitution. The most relevant passage of this constitution is article 7:
(vii) To maintain the status of Ireland as a sovereign State, as a full member of the European Union and the United Nations, contributing to peace, disarmament and development on the basis of Ireland’s independent foreign policy tradition.
This is where the problem arises – if maximising Ireland’s sovereignty and remaining a “full member” of the EU would indeed be contradictory if proposals for a Federal Europe were to arise. Obviously Ireland has needed to cede some small aspect of its sovereignty in order to be part of the UN and the EU, however when does the tipping point arise? Surely when economic sovereignty is compromised, or is there a new post-nationalist approach evolving across Europe? Or, will there inevitably be a 2 speed Europe, where Ireland can retain membership of the Euro but without the increased integration of Federalism?
As the Fianna Fáil constitution does not seem to give an adequate answer in this regard, we need to assess the comments of the Fianna Fáil party leaders. Fianna Fáil party founder Éamon De Valera stated the following after a meeting in Strasbourg prior to the treaty of Rome:
“We have always realised that we are one nation and that, as far as physical resources were concerned, our resources were not great. We also realise that, small as were our physical resources, there were spiritual ones which were of great value; and we never doubted that our nation, though a small one, in the material sense, could play a very important part in international affairs. In a Council of Europe it would have been unwise for our people to enter into a political federation which would mean that you had a European parliament deciding the economic circumstances, for example, of our life.
For economic and other reasons we had refused to be satisfied with a representative of, say, one in six, as was our representative in the British parliament. Our representative in the European Assembly was, I think, something like four out of 120. That is, instead of being out-voted on matters that we would have regarded as important interests to us by five or six to one, we would have been out-voted by 30 or 40 to one.
We did not strive to get out of that domination [British] of our affairs by outside force, or we did not get out of that position to get into a worse one.”
De Valera’s comments seem to indicate he would be against the idea of a Federal Europe. The second leader of Fianna Fáil, Seán Lemass, seems a little more relaxed in relation to European Integration, but also stops short of being in favour of federalism. According to this article by Ronan Fanning, in July 1962 in an interview with The New York Times, Lemass stated that Ireland was
“prepared to go into this integrated Europe without any reservations as to how far this will take us in the field of foreign policy and defence”.
However, as Bruce Arnold points out, the only indication is that Lemass was in favour of increased integration in relation to foreign policy and defence. Indeed it would be hard to see how a man like Lemass that had fought for political and economic indepenendence from the UK could then within 50 years embrace federal economic and fiscal integration.
Fianna Fáil will certainly be engaging in some soul searching over the coming months and years in relation to this pivotal issue that faces our Nation, however we must balance the legacy of our forefathers with today’s realities. Fianna Fáil is a pragmatic party, but can we be pragmatic about such a core issue?
The recent decision to bring forward a referendum on Scottish independence overshadowed the British-Irish Council in January, with Alex Salmond MSP taking centre stage. Salmond accused the UK government of bullying tactics and drew a parallel between the UK’s historic treatment of Ireland and the present day UK government’s attitude to Scotland and Scottish independence. Speaking on RTE Radio he stated:
“I am sure many people in Ireland will remember that sometimes people who are in leadership positions in big countries find it very difficult not to bully small countries”
While there may or may not be many historical parallels between Ireland and Scotland’s experience of Westminster rule, and indeed each’s methodology with respect to achieving national liberation, there are many parallels between the SNP and Fianna Fáil. Like Fianna Fail and the ANC, the SNP’s original mission statement was to be a party consisting of a unified broad based national independence movement. Catch all movements (Gaullist) like these have seen themselves by and large fade away over the past few decades as they are perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be national parties with no guiding ideology, as as such not politically required once their primary purpose has expired. SNP leader Alex Salmond, as a close analyst of national liberation movements, knows this fatal flaw, and has sought to remedy this situation. He has cleverly positioned the SNP as a clone of the defacto early Fianna Fáil 193o’s position, namely a pragmatic nationalist left-of-centre social-democratic party, designed to take the natural space that a Labour Party would occupy in most post-independence countries. Hence, the SNP have been slowly taking the place of Scottish Labour electorally, and have now become the largest party in Scotland.
Now, how did the SNP evolve into the force it is today?
The current Presidential campaign in many ways has shown us all the many political strands of Ireland – Socialist Ireland, Conservative Ireland, Liberal Ireland, Provo Ireland, Post-nationalist Ireland, Europhile Ireland and Eurosceptic Ireland. However, there is one very noticeable omission from those strands, and the strand that is indeed encapsulated by our current President – Constitutional Republican Ireland.
One must ask, what ever happened to that strand? Constitutional Republicanism was the most powerful, vibrant and well-oiled political ideology on the island of Ireland until the turn of this century, embodied by the political movements Fianna Fáil and the SDLP. These political movements, whilst emerging from different backgrounds (though both also entitled to the political legacy of the Nationalist Party and the Anti-Partition League) for the majority of their existence these two parties shared a roughly common base and grassroot sentiment; that of Constitutional Republicanism, slightly left-of-centre political alignment, small C conservatism (due to their historical closeness to the Catholic Church), and cultural nationalism. Campaigning for international causes had also been a mainstay of FF and SDLP politics, namely support for the Palestinian cause and Irish neutrality. Its also true to say that the grassroots of both parties hold each other in high esteem, moreso from the Fianna Fáil side of things, so much so that Fianna Fáil’s northern advances were put on hold due to the prevalence of the opinion of SDLP sympathisers in Fianna Fáil after the end of Bertie Ahern’s leadership. However, while the remaining grassroot membership of these two parties has remained roughly the same (and indeed aged), their senior parties leaderships had moved in opposite directions politically over the past 2 decades.