Political realignment and Northern Fianna Fáil discussed at annual re-enactment dinner

August 3, 2010

Well-known political commentator Tom Kelly was the guest of honour at the annual re-enactment dinner hosted by the Tom Dunn Society, Rostrevor which commemorates a United Irishmen night attended by Wolfe Tone in County Down.

Mr Kelly delivered the key-note address on a theme of political realignment including the possibility of Northern Fianna Fáil.  The theme was particularly significant given Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s visit to Crossmaglen just days earlier.

In a wide ranging speech, Tom Kelly addressed the challenges for all political parties on the island of Ireland following the completion of the Northern peace process and the collapse of the economy in the Republic of Ireland.

Speaking to a distinguished audience of the Tom Dunne Society members, politicians, writers and academics, Mr Kelly said: ‘Political re-alignment is on the cards right across the political spectrum. The collapse of the Irish economy has presented Fianna Fáil with major difficulties which may alter its future unless it adapts. Yet there is no big idea on the Opposition side. Irish politics now requires a momentum that can only be created by a more holistic vision of Irish society. Ironically as one door appears to close on Fianna Fail fortunes in the South another appears to be opening for them in the North. The differences that created Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will soon be forgotten in another generation. The ties that bind people within those organisations are loosening at a time when the differences between their organisations are dissolving. Labour is trying to balance the outdated rhetoric of Connolly alongside the requirements to be a modern social democratic party but it’s practically impossible. They too need a ‘new’ labour type project to give them the credibility to be the lead party in Government. However, re-alignments will be driven by the electorate and not by the parties themselves.

“In the North re-alignment will be witnessed quicker on the unionist side driven by fear on one hand and a genuine dissolution of differences between the DUP and UUP. The current leadership in either party is probably the only stumbling block to closer cooperation. On the nationalist side Sinn Fein has boxed the SDLP in by taking their clothes and sharing the constitutional nationalist plinth but their hopelessly reckless economic policies prevent any significant expansion into the Republic where despite the recession the Irish electorate has no appetite for their policies. The SDLP sit precariously at a crossroads which they need to leave. Sinn Fein having come at them from the left; a re-surging Alliance bolstered by a new Minister, a popular MP and NI’s only ethnic MLA may challenge the SDLP more robustly for the middle ground. Without clear direction the electorate in the North may plump for monolithic blocks which won’t help the development of politics.

“Ireland now more than anytime in the past is at peace with itself, its neighbour and its history –and that is best articulated constantly by President McAleese who has shattered many cultural shibboleths while embracing the diversity of cultural traditions on the island.

“The United Irishmen would be pleased with the accord that has been reached. They would be less than pleased by the inequalities which exist created by a culture of greed and self interest and certainly would turn in their graves watching our children being used for sectarian street fighting by sinister and undemocratic forces unwilling to accept the will of the Irish people.

“The hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016 should be a target date by which we all work towards updating the principles of modern republicanism to fit the purpose of a modern, diverse and pluralist Ireland. Let the persuasiveness of the aspirations and ideals of the United Irishmen stand free and clear from outdated rhetoric and the mist of violence created by two hundred years of mistrust, division and sectarianism. For once let Ireland give the living a more power than the dead.”

“Ending his speech, Tom Kelly by adding: ‘Ireland could do worse than follow the example of Bhutan and have an injection of a little GNP- Gross National Happiness’ –  and in making the annual toast to the memory of Tom Dunn and the United Irishmen, he quoted Bertrand Russell: ‘If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have a paradise in a few years’ – I am sure the United Irishmen could live with that.”

The Tom Dunn Society’s Patron is An Uachtarain na hEireann, Mary McAleese and previous annual lectures have been given by Sir George Quigley, author Tim Pat Coogan, former Presbyterian Moderator John Dunlop, and historian Brian Feeney. The society holds the re-enactment dinner and a series of seminars and events throughout the annual Fiddler’s Green Festival in Rostrevor.