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Sunday 19 June 2005

On Planet Fianna Fail, principle is simply a joke

It wasn't the sight of Bertie apparently wiping away a tear at Sean Doherty's removal that got to me. After all, he might genuinely have felt a bit sad. It wasn't the 'Jaysus wasn't the Doc a great lad all the same' carry-on in the media. Dammit, it wasn't even the nauseating and presumptuous remark of Father Conlon that the Doc would "enjoy welcoming [Charlie Haughey] to Heavensville". 

It was the photographs of rows of Fianna Failers - including Albert Reynolds, looking pious, and Liam Lawlor, sporting a chancer's leer - that turned my stomach and reminded me why I loathe that party. All of which was exacerbated by the pressure from its TDs that killed off the plan for cafe-bars and reminded me why it's known in some circles as Fianna Fail, the Publicans' Party. 

If blood were thicker than water, I'd rather be dead than admit to hating FF, for if you don't count my Sinn Fein granny, all my political skeletons are from that party. 

The genetic link with my Lenihan cousins is so strong that when, years ago, I first arranged to meet Conor Lenihan, we passed each other in a crowded place and instantly recognised each other: I thought he looked like my father and he thoughtI looked like his aunt Mary O'Rourke. 

I have some time for de Valera and his generation and Jack Lynch seemed a decent guy, but I took against FF when I was very young, and learned a few facts about the nuts and bolts of Irish politics that shocked me. 

There was the uncle in the country who had a small pension for running errands during the War of Independence: my parents knew a) that he hadn't as much as gone to the shops during that period and b) that his recognition came when his brother became a Fianna Fail county councillor. Nor was I impressed by what I was told of the creative way in which Paddy Lenihan, TD, my father's cousin, played the industrial grants system. I had a soft spot for his son Brian, but was shocked that a man of his intelligence would pay court to a shifty little poseur like Haughey. 

At UCD, I saw up close and personal the brilliant populism of Gerry Collins, six years my senior, who was known to be heir to a Dail seat and passed his time agreeably retaking exams and running the Students' Representative Council (SRC) in an individualistic way. He was a man who seemed to bear no grudges. After a savage denunciation of him in the Literary and Historical Debating Society by Patrick Cosgrave (later my 'When I asked the agreeable Brian Lenihan if integrity mattered to him. "Jaysus, cousin, you're great gas," he managed to say between gales of laughter' 

husband), who made much of Collins's co-opting of his schoolfriends to the SRC, Collins came up to him a few days later, grinned and enquired genially, 'Paddy, would ye like to be co-opted to the SRC?' He seemed baffled that Paddy didn't accept the honour. All we could do was laugh. As with Brian Lenihan, it was hard to dislike Gerry - both were fundamentally decent. 

Haughey was very different. I knew he was dodgy from the first time I saw him, and I watched with horror the direction in which he led his followers. Gradually, principle became a joke in Fianna Fail. This was later confirmed to me by the agreeable Brian when I asked him if integrity mattered to him. "Jaysus, cousin, you're great gas," he managed to say between gales of laughter. And the extent to which Fianna Failers began to believe in their own invulnerability was brought home to me by Ray Burke, who expected me to congratulate him when he told how he diverted trees to a housing estate one election day and had them removed when the polls closed. 

In the future, if anyone ever puzzles over what happened to Fianna Fail in the Haughey era, there are photographs of Padraig Flynn that will sum it all up. Even more than Haughey, the high-stepping, I'm-cock-of-the-walk cut of Flynn's gib is the personification of mohair-suit-made-flesh. All that will be needed to explain what happened to a party that once had ideals will be an accompanying rendition of John A Murphy's masterly composition about Beverley Cooper Flynn. 

My visceral anti-FFery was inculcated by my mother, an unsentimental product of rural Cork. She force-fed me the short stories of Guy de Maupassant with all their revelations about the greed and cruelty and hypocrisy of peasant life and taught me that such characteristics were ignoble and to be fought against. There was much that was great in her heritage: she was proud of her people's courage and tenacity and humour, but she saw their dark side clearly. To her, Fianna Fail had chosen to become the party that appealed to the worst elements of the Irish peasantry, from avarice to sneaking regardism. "Look at Charlie," she would say, "and his eyes nearly closed with cunning." 

Sorry to disappoint Father Conlon, but my mother certainly won't enjoy welcoming Sean Doherty and Charlie Haughey to Heavensville.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards