IT’S a grim January for us all, but spare a thought for Fianna Fáil, who have just bade farewell to their last ever Taoiseach.
Such a grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented claim needs grounding in fact to be taken seriously, given the party’s preternatural ability to bounce back.
But Fianna Fáil are the midwives of a political economy that, having provided them with a generation of solid supporters, now spells annihilation.
This story begins and ends in Cork, and perhaps this is why I was surprised at the lack of occasion on December 17 when Taoiseach Micheál Martin stepped down.
This, after all, could signal the true end of civil war politics in this country, with the impending demise of one of the parties that emerged from that period.
On the other hand, it could be the simple outcome of a party leader following policies and political economic frameworks laid out by his predecessors, not realising that the world has moved on. This in itself has its place in history too.
The condition of the state has changed to the point of the Fianna Fáil party being almost irreversibly moribund.
The disintegration of what the Irish state can provide to workers and carers is so often reported as separate crises that it is almost banal to state them.
The health system does not function, housing to rent or buy is astronomical, FDI-based jobs are being lost with no industry to replace them, and wages in precarious work do not match inflation.
Taken together rather than individually, because this is how they are experienced in people’s everyday lives, these problems make it difficult for workers or carers to exist in the Irish state.
This means the economy is not functioning, in turn becoming a vicious and self-perpetuating cycle of general crisis.
What connects these seemingly intractable problems is that the political choices leading to them can be landed at the feet of Fianna Fáil, who have governed in some shape or form for 23 of the last 30 years.
The affluent working-man to whom Fianna Fáil used to give the step up the ladder no longer has that convenience.
The moment this class of people were turned from affluent workers into mini-rentier capitalists through adroit real estate entrepreneurialism was the moment Fianna Fáil ceased being relevant to their interests.
Unlike Fine Gael, who serve a more permanent class interest as inheritors of Anglo-Irish sensibilities and agribusiness interests, Fianna Fáil traditionally represented a socially-mobile class.
It has lost touch, through an economy where a house costs more than eight times the average industrial wage. Long story short, Celtic Tiger 2.0 doesn’t produce Fianna Fáil voters anymore.
The price of a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach in this government amounts then to a pyrrhic victory. As though the important thing was proving Fianna Fail could get back into power from anything, Martin took over the reins of the old firm when the new firm was already the future.
Had he taken my advice in May, 2020, when I said putting Sinn Féin in opposition would lead to a Sinn Féin majority, perhaps he might be coming into office now off the back of a Sinn Féin disappointment.
Of course, it was all very noble at the time, at least according to Fianna Fáil’s cheerleaders in the media. But this nobility could not be extended to the party itself, rather it went individually to Martin as leader.
This particular Cork Taoiseach, stepping into the shoes of the previous highly popular but reluctant Cork Taoiseach, put transient positionality ahead of party sustainability.
I am reminded of Jack Lynch every time I walk into City Hall for a council meeting. His statue greets any visitor to the chamber and serves as a reminder to me not only of the decision of Fianna Fáil to obliterate local government funding in 1977, but of the ‘party for the working man’ position they no longer occupy. Perhaps, in time, people will see Martin less as a 21st century Lynch but more as a tragic John Hume.
While Hume’s legacy was the noble sacrifice of his SDLP party for the democratic principle of Sinn Féin’s mandate, Martin’s will be the penchant for civil war histrionics over listening to the electorate.
This legacy is not simply one of a party entering terminal decline, though that is a symptom of the failure of Fianna Fáil as a pillar of the state, rather it is the crumbling in the facade of the state as being something that can offer anything to workers and carers anymore.
The first leader of Fianna Fáil, Éamon de Valera, once said: “Whenever I wanted to know what the Irish people wanted, I had only to examine my own heart.”
The time may have already passed for such earnest introspection.
Tomorrow, Lorna Bogue concludes her three-day series in which she assesses the political landscape of today.
Lorna Bogue is a Councillor with Cork City Council representing Cork City South East. She is the leader of an ecosocialist political party, An Rabharta Glas - Green Left.