Tóibín’s break­away may pose more dan­ger to FF than SF

Irish Independent - - The Week - John Down­ing

PEADAR Tóibín be­lieves he can bor­row heav­ily from the now de­funct Pro­gres­sive Democrats’s po­lit­i­cal play­book. No, the for­mer Sinn Féin loy­al­ist, who now loudly de­nounces his old party, has not sud­denly de­cided to es­pouse free-boot­ing mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism.

But, as he em­barks on the up­hill climb of try­ing to launch a new 32-county po­lit­i­cal move­ment early in the new year, he notes that the Pro­gres­sive Democrats more usu­ally had no more than a dozen TDs for all its 25-year ex­is­tence.

“Yet the ‘PDs,’ de­spite their small num­bers, shaped and in­flu­enced Ir­ish Gov­ern­ment pol­icy for the greater part of two decades. They were a huge fac­tor in de­cid­ing this coun­try’s eco­nomic poli­cies, es­pe­cially through the 1990s and into the last decade,” the Meath West TD told the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent.

Those of us fa­mil­iar with re­cent po­lit­i­cal his­tory will know that the Pro­gres­sive Demo­crat party be­gan life as a Fianna Fáil break­away in De­cem­ber 1985. But in the en­su­ing elec­tions the fledg­ling party did by far the greater dam­age to Fine Gael.

Now there are fears that the new Sinn Féin break­away could do more harm to Fianna Fáil. If you’re sur­prised by that no­tion have a look at the no-holds barred at­tacks launched against Mr Tóibín’s rather quixotic po­lit­i­cal mis­sion.

Two lead­ing party mem­bers, Billy Kelle­her and Thomas Byrne, have un­leashed bar­rages against him.

The speed with which these crit­i­cisms were launched, and their sharp tone, sug­gested some con­cern within the ranks of the ‘Soldiers of Des­tiny’. Mr Tóibín is too as­tute to dis­cuss po­ten­tial to “dam­age Fianna Fáil” and con­fines him­self to not­ing that he is “get­ting a great re­ac­tion across all par­ties – in­clud­ing Fianna Fáil”.

Some of their crit­i­cisms carry a deal of merit be­cause the Sinn Féin true-be­liever of 21 years was one of that party’s most ortho­dox and on-mes­sage mem­bers. The “true-green” Mr Tóibín more usu­ally gave us a strong ren­di­tion of my party is al­ways right. He stood by for­mer leader Gerry Adams amid ex­pla­na­tions of dark deeds past and also de­fended the ranks de­spite dis­turb­ing rev­e­la­tions by Máiría Cahill.

But now that he has put those Sinn Féin days be­hind him, Mr Tóibín speaks of a cer­tain same­ness when com­par­ing his once and re­cent party with all of the other ones. For him, all the par­ties are too con­strict­ing for real pol­i­tics.

TDs are too busy try­ing to stay on mes­sage with a party lead­er­ship led by fo­cus group find­ings and so­cial me­dia trends. They are also too busy try­ing to keep their Dáil seats.

Yes, there is a deal of truth in those ar­gu­ments and many at Le­in­ster House, across all par­ties, would agree. But what can one politi­cian, who has been a TD for less than eight years, do about chang­ing all of that – even as­sum­ing his fledg­ling na­tional move­ment does fire?

He en­vis­ages a 32-county “po­lit­i­cal move­ment” which leans to the left in mat­ters of so­cial pol­icy and cham­pi­ons “eco­nomic jus­tice” for the less well-off. When he talks his sin­cer­ity is be­yond ques­tion, and he points to a back­ground in eco­nomics and busi­ness con­sul­tancy which keeps him po­lit­i­cally earthed and con­scious of the need for fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Yes, build­ing a na­tional po­lit­i­cal move­ment is very hard. But the de­mand is there among the peo­ple for a new po­lit­i­cal ap­proach and that sug­gests we can suc­ceed,” Mr Tóibín ar­gues.

But let’s not for­get that he broke with Sinn Féin over the abor­tion is­sue. And left-lean­ing peo­ple more usu­ally take a dif­fer­ent view on that dif­fi­cult mat­ter.

That poses a big ob­sta­cle in the path of take-off. But we will watch his progress with in­ter­est.

The Pro­gres­sive Demo­crat party was a Fianna Fáil break­away which did most dam­age to Fine Gael

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