One hundred and four years ago the people of Ireland decided to be citizens of an independent country rather than subjects of an empire. That courageous decision was a success. Ireland is now a sovereign, independent, democratic country subject to the rule of law and controlled politically by the electoral wishes of its people.
Although independence has succeeded, Ireland now faces political and social challenges of immense proportions that require similarly courageous decisions as were made one hundred years ago.
Ireland between 2022 and 2072 will be a remarkably different place to the Ireland of the 20th century. Extraordinary demographic, cultural and political changes have taken place already in the 21st century and it is undeniable that these changes will continue during the next 50 years. Ireland is now a country with a population of over 5,000,000, 13% of whom are non-Irish nationals, with increasing numbers of Irish nationals migrating back into the country.
There are many reasons why Ireland is seen as an attractive place to live, but two are very relevant for the purpose of this submission.
First, Ireland has a dynamic and open economy that provides employment and rewards hard work.
Second, the quality of life in Ireland, as represented by the country’s sense of community and friendliness, is an attraction that is frequently underestimated by long-term residents
Ireland is also a country with a young population that views the economy and the role of government in a different light to how they were viewed in the last century. No longer do Irish people view themselves as being tied to, or thankful for, their initial job.
The dynamism of the Irish economy, as seen in the growth of the technology and knowledge-based sectors, means that people no longer demand what was historically viewed as the security of a permanent and pensionable job. Instead, mobility of employment is viewed as an advantage to be availed of by young workers.
Notwithstanding their attraction to an open and dynamic economy, this new generation of Irish people wants its government to play a role in supporting this dynamic economy and in ensuring that the fundamental requirements for their flexible lives are available and in place – housing, childcare, education, and healthcare.
This generation also wants a government that can respond to the regional imbalance that exists in a country where 29% of the population lives in its capital, whilst an extraordinary quality of life is available for those who make the decision to live in the regions. These are the challenges that need to be focused on by Fianna Fáil during the next 50 years.
That is why there needs to be a new vision in Irish politics. That new vision does not require a new party but instead a new, modern, relevant vision from an established Irish political party that recognises the progress our country can make from the new solid economic and social foundations for which we have all worked so hard in order that our families can prosper.
History can give us confidence that our ambitions can be achieved, but we must change and be more forward looking, more flexible, more ambitious, more caring whilst we continue being uniquely Irish and proud Europeans.
As Ireland has changed, so must our political ambitions. We must build on what we have and prepare new foundations that will ensure prosperity and equality of opportunity for all in housing, childcare, education and healthcare in this new dynamic economy.
We are not starting from scratch, but from a stronger base that, although by no means perfect, can be managed successfully to build a new successful history. This will take time, but the roadmap needs to be established now.
Fianna Fáil needs a vision for Ireland that is based on the notion that equality and opportunity are the bases upon which we can build an Ireland that is kind, fair and efficient.
As we face into the second hundred years of this republic – its second age – our politics and our party are confronted by very different circumstances, in a very different Europe and in a very different world.
The last decade, let alone the last century, has witnessed a tsunami of change that washed away what were once old certainties. In those years, the patterns of political crisis have not been intermittent or cyclical. Our people have been confronted and challenged by unprecedented event followed by unprecedented event – economic, social and, most recently, health.
The pace of these events on our collective lives is only matched by the depth of its effect on our national consciousness and on the lives of our people. The deep uncertainty of this period in our politics is now unfortunately mirrored in the everyday lives of citizens. The fundamentals that underpin the quality of our lives – a decent job, a family home, and our health – are now the very things that have been eroded by uncertainty.
People are naturally wearied by constant crisis and rightly worried by a present, and a future, so saturated in instability. There is now a widespread public hunger for some security and certainty, and people know that the only power and authority capable of providing this is Ireland’s government.
That consensus amongst the Irish electorate has already taken shape. In the last number of elections, we have voted to prioritise improved and expanded public services and increased state intervention. As a party we have recognised that public desire, but we have failed to understand fully the magnitude of the interventions and change which people now expect.
Adults under 40 have seen huge changes in the workplace as a result of the development of a dynamic and flexible economy. They have also experienced significant recessions. Prior to the pandemic they were already finding it very difficult to secure accommodation or achieve financial security. Public policy must intervene to protect and enhance the position of these young people. Political leadership must prioritise them so that their lives can be lived outside the overbearing shadow of financial insecurity. Our party will attract younger voters if we articulate policies that are clear, simple and ambitious, and that will:
• solve their problems (housing and childcare);
• address their anxieties (climate crisis and health), and
• inspire their patriotism (reunification).
Fianna Fáil must be humble enough to accept that in recent elections we have offered a platform that is too small in comparison to the scale of the political context that confronts us. Cautious incrementalism has no place at a time of such defining political change. Our offering needs to be bigger and bolder, and ambitious.
It is right that people expect our policy commitments to be deliverable, but they equally want us to be daring. That means that Fianna Fáil must have the courage to articulate a fuller and firmer vision of the Ireland we wish to create.
The aims and objectives of Fianna Fáil
As a large centre ground national party, Fianna Fáil has been slow and inarticulate in defining for what it stands. Fianna Fáil should have the following 10 aims and objectives:
1. THE REUNIFICATION OBJECTIVE
Fianna Fáil is a republican party that wants to unite and develop an Irish nation in which people of different identities, cultures and beliefs on this island can live harmoniously together and govern themselves within the progressive structures of the European Union.
Fianna Fáil wants to achieve a united Ireland. Our means of achieving this is to bring together the people of the island, not by a takeover of Northern Ireland, but rather by persuading all our fellow country men and women in Northern Ireland, through democratic and respectful political dialogue, that their interests, as well as ours, are best served by achieving unity in a new Ireland that serves the interests of all.
2. THE ENVIRONMENTAL OBJECTIVE
Fianna Fáil stands for the preservation and protection of our environment from the dangers of the climate crisis and pollution. The imperative for urgent action on the climate crisis is now both obvious and overwhelming.
Fianna Fáil will offer realistic and achievable policies that will protect our environment whilst promoting business, protecting rural Ireland, and responding to the needs of local communities. Fianna Fáil believes that sustainable Irish farming and food production is the mechanism through which we can ensure the ongoing protection of our environment.
3. THE CULTURAL OBJECTIVE
Fianna Fáil stands for the preservation and promotion of our rich Irish heritage and culture. In particular, Fianna Fáil recognises how the arts can enhance the lives of Irish people, and how Ireland can continue to achieve international recognition through its promotion of the arts.
Fianna Fáil is committed to promoting policies that protect our heritage and culture, and which will enhance the performance of the arts in Ireland.
4. AIDHM NA GAEILGE
Is é cuspóir Fianna Fáil gach tacaíocht, seirbhís agus áis a bheith ar fáil chun saol a chaitheamh trí Ghaeilge in Éirinn. Is é polasaí Fianna Fáil a seasamh le forlámhas na Gaeilge mar theanga an phobail snalimistéir Ghaeltachta agus pobail nua Ghaeltachta a bhunú.
5. THE FAMILY OBJECTIVE
Fianna Fáil recognises that the definition and understanding of what constitutes a family has changed significantly since Bunreacht na hÉireann came into force. Fianna Fáil supports this broader and more inclusive definition of the family as the primary and fundamental unit group of society and will promote policies that enhance and protect the family and, in particular, the welfare of all children.
This must also extend to ensuring affordable and secure housing and accommodation for all families.
6. THE EDUCATION OBJECTIVE
Fianna Fáil is a party of opportunity and recognises that education has provided Irish people with the chance to improve the quality and enjoyment of their lives. Fianna Fáil is committed to ensuring that education is broadly available to all, not just during school years but beyond into further education.
Fianna Fáil supports a broad definition of further education to include all forms of apprenticeships and wants to ensure that our education system provides pathways to employment for all, and not just for those who are academic high achievers.
7. THE PUBLIC SERVICES OBJECTIVE
Fianna Fáil believes the state has a responsibility to protect its citizens through a strong and well-resourced public sector that enables them to have the fullest access possible to childcare, education, social housing, healthcare, and social protection. Fianna Fáil will support policies that continue to devote significant state resources to funding these public services.
8. THE PRIVATE ENTERPRISE OBJECTIVE
Fianna Fáil stands for the promotion of enterprise and the creation of wealth as a means of improving the standard of living of all our people. Our Public Services objective cannot be achieved unless sufficient wealth is created that results in an increase in available resources.
Experience confirms that this wealth can only be generated by the private sector.
Fianna Fáil believes in rewarding hard work, and in promoting a vibrant private sector that is spread throughout the regions and not concentrated on Dublin. It believes that everyone has the right to develop to their fullest potential and that the State should facilitate this by ensuring our laws reward hard work and aspiration.
9. THE SOCIAL COHESION OBJECTIVE
Ireland has benefited greatly from the social cohesion between employers, employees and other social groups that was pioneered by Fianna Fáil in government. We established agreed structures through which employers and employees, overseen by government, have been able to put in place a fair system for workplace engagement.
As a centre ground national party that seeks to avoid polarisation of employers and employees, Fianna Fáil is committed to the protection and development of social cohesion in order to ensure that fairness and
understanding continue within the workplace and industrial relations.
10. THE HOUSING OBJECTIVE
Fianna Fáil believes in the provision of suitable and affordable housing for its citizens. Exorbitant purchase and rent prices are preventing the majority of young people from accessing affordable and secure accommodation. For many people, particularly those under the age of 40, home ownership or secure rental accommodation is an unattainable dream.
Fianna Fáil believes that this must change, and that no future government can permit a return of the cycle of recession to housing crisis and back to recession. The construction of suitable and affordable housing must be continuous and the attraction of, and reasons for, living outside Dublin in the regions must bepromoted.
How Fianna Fáil can achieve this Aims and Objectives?
During the past one hundred years this country has progressed mainly because of centre ground policies that were advocated and implemented by Fianna Fáil governments.
Fianna Fáil achieved political dominance not because of the stance of its leaders in the civil war but because it was viewed by the majority of the population as being the political party that would protect them. Fianna Fáil did protect people, particularly small farmers and workers. However, as time went on, Fianna Fáil came to view itself as the natural party of government, and then as a party whose sole purpose was to be in government. That attitude undermined its relationship with the people.
Ireland has succeeded as a democracy and country because it was governed from the centre, not the extremes. Unfortunately, the loudest political voices now come from the extremes. The effect of these voices, and possibly their intention, is to polarise politics.
Political polarisation results in the diminution of debate on political issues. Instead of voters arguing about political issues, polarisation seeks to ensure that voters believe that their interests cannot and will not be served by those of a different political persuasion.
Polarisation seeks to make politics tribal. It has happened in the United Kingdom through Brexit; in the United States through the growing contempt that exists between the two main political parties; and in Northern Ireland through the continuation and maintenance of the sectarian divide.
Because of the existence and threat of polarisation, this country has never more needed a strong centre ground national party such as Fianna Fáil. The reason why centre ground national parties, particularly those in post-colonial countries, achieved so much in the twentieth century was because their guiding principles were rooted in the best interests of the people, not the rubric of ideology. They sought to promote policies that protected the interests of their liberated people and that achieved the common good.
Today it is common for a centre-ground national party to be ridiculed and presented as lacking in conviction or meaning. That is wrong. Never before has this country more required a strong centre ground national party that governs not for the benefit of one faction or polarised group, but for the benefit of the country as a whole. Now, more than ever, this country needs a radical and articulate centre ground national party that will not seek to take advantage of people’s disaffection and dissatisfaction, but that will build on the hope and industry of all Irish people.
With other parties now happy to base themselves on the ideological hard left or right, it is now time to fight for a political party of the centre and to protect Ireland from the polarised and intimidatory politics that has contaminated so many other countries.
We should not apologise for putting the interests of the whole nation ahead of the interests of certain groups. The segmentation of politics into mutually antagonistic groups is exactly the problem that has debased and divided the politics of countries like the United Kingdom and the USA. The centre of the nation is where Fianna Fáil stands; the whole of the nation is the interest we wish to serve.
In order to ensure that the party’s aims and objectives are realised we need to change how the party operates.
- Empowering the Parliamentary Party to achieve the aims and objectives.
The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party needs to be given a central role in the development of the party’s strategy and policies in order to achieve its aims and objectives.
Each member of the parliamentary party should be allocated a function corresponding to a government portfolio.
Each of these policy groups of TDs and senators should be headed by the party spokespersons on each portfolio.
Party spokespersons should be given responsibility for proposing the relevant content of any election manifesto. The election manifesto should be the work of the front bench and must require full sign off by the front bench before publication.
The party’s research office should provide secretarial and research supports to these policy groups with each staff member being formally assigned to a committee. The policy formulation process will provide an avenue for party members and activists to have a meaningful input into policy formulation.
Any member or activist who has a policy proposal should be able to identify the staff member who is responsible for supporting the relevant policy committee, and submit suggestions to them for consideration by the relevant committee. Fianna Fáil must welcome the ideas of our members the length and breadth of the country and let those members know that there are meaningful mechanisms by which their ideas can be incorporated into party policies.
We should also create a formal structure for councillors to meet regularly at national and regional level to ensure greater co-operation and information sharing. A unit should be established in Fianna Fáil headquarters, including staff from the party research office, to support councillors in their important work. Our councillors are key to attaining our aims and objectives, and they must be acknowledged and supported.
Preparations for the next Local Government and European Elections must commence now. Our political priority must be to remain the biggest party in local government and to win at least one European Parliament seat in each Euro constituency.
2. Improving the party’s structures to achieve the aims and objectives.
Fianna Fáil needs to have the national and digital campaigning capacity that equals or surpasses its constituency/ground campaign. We need a bespoke digital strategy unit to ensure the aims and objectives of Fianna Fáil are known and promoted online and across social media platforms.
We need to use the expertise that exists within certain members of the parliamentary party, and many skilled individuals across our membership, who have shown that they can run excellent social media campaigns. We must invest in ongoing regular training for constituency officers and organisers. Our greatest political strength remains our local presence in communities, though there are clearly some gaps in urban areas. We must build on our local strengths and both review and upgrade our national structures to empower local party units.
If we are serious about our Reunification objective then we must enhance our relationship with the SDLP. The partnership with the SDLP should be strengthened, developed and advanced with greater interactions between the Oireachtas and Northern Ireland Assembly parliamentary groups and the establishment of standing policy committees to meet regularly and report jointlyto the party leaders.
3. Recruiting new members to promote our aims and objectives.
People do not join political parties in the same numbers as in the last century. However, many people are still interested in getting involved in politics but perceive it as being inaccessible or slow to respond. Fianna Fáil needs to develop a recruitment programme that will seek to attract more members, particularly women and young people, from across Ireland. We should seek to recruit people who want to contest elections on behalf of the party. This recruitment should take place in every townland and urban estate across the country.
To achieve this we must first create a party structure that is driven by ideas and membership input. People must feel that joining Fianna Fáil means contributing to national debate and national politics. That will only happen when people are fully aware of Fianna Fáil’s aims and objectives.