Fianna Fáil considers its options with Sinn Féin. Here The Pensive Quill features a recent interview with party leader Micheál Martin, on the Today programme with Pat Kenny show.
Pat Kenny interviews Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin
Today with Pat Kenny
Monday 30 April 2012
Pat Kenny (PK) interviews Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin (MM).
Pat Kenny (PK): Are Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil perfect bedfellows for a future coalition or even a merger?
Well that seems to be the view of former deputy leader Éamon Ó Cuív when he said in an interview with The Connacht Tribune that both parties come from the same tradition and are therefore more compatible than a partnership with either Fine Gael or Labour.
I'm joined from the Cork studio by the leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin.
PK: Micheál Martin, good morning!
Micheál Martin (MM): Good Morning, Pat.
PK: You must be tempted to use that old phrase: “rid me of this turbulent priest!”
MM: Not at all.
I think people in politics are free to articulate their positions and indeed to articulate what their particular beliefs and thoughts are.
I wouldn't share Éamon Ó Cuív's analysis at all in relation to Sinn Féin.
I don't see Sinn Féin as a Republican party in the first instance.
Their actions, not just in the past but even up to present day, are the very antithesis of what Republicanism should mean.
PK: Are you saying, to quote Garret FitzGerald about Charlie Haughey, “they have a flawed pedigree”?
MM: I wouldn't use that phrase.
Basically Republicanism is to me the capacity to unite Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter. And I think
Sinn Féin do not have that capacity.
We saw evidence of that during the presidential election when large sections of society here found it difficult, very difficult to comprehend the prospect of a Sinn Féin president because of the mortars and the activities that they engaged in.
And yesterday in my speech at Arbour Hill I made it very clear that there is no connection nor can there be any attempt to connect the activities of the Provisional IRA with the War of Independence period or indeed with the leaders of 1916, which is part of the narrative that Sinn Féin have been endeavouring to articulate.
PK: But you said that Sinn Féin prolonged suffering because of its delay in embracing democratic politics.
MM: Absolutely. If you talk to some ex-combatants and people who were members of the IRA they now realise that.
And they believe there was a fundamental dishonesty at the heart of the Provisional IRA campaign from the mid-seventies onwards, particularly after Sunningdale. And that thousands of people lost their lives needlessly.
If you read Voices From the Grave, Ed Moloney's book which as you know deals with the testimony of Brendan Hughes who was a close ally of Gerry Adams in the IRA at that time, it's very, very clear that there was huge disillusionment set in.
And indeed an instance: the issue of the “disappeared”. And last week we had for the news in relations to Columba McVeigh and attempts to found his body so his family can give him a decent burial; he was a young teenager when he was abducted in 1975.
And I genuinely believe there's been a fundamental lack of accountability in relation to those kinds of incidents and those issues. And therein lies really the fundamental problem with Sinn Féin in terms of describing itself as a Republican party.
But in terms of its behaviour and actions, even in government in Northern Ireland, (they) tend to be very sectarian and tend to be very partisan in approach.
PK: Later on in the programme in Part Two, we'll be talking about a book called Overcoming Violence by Johnston McMaster, and he goes back looking at the traditional of violence going back Tudor plantations and all the rest of it.
But in the period that we're about to celebrate, this one hundred years starting from this year and going through to 1922, it was a very violent period and one of the things he talks about is the shooting of James Bandon in the face by the IRA.
I mean, it was a dirty war at that time. And Sinn Féin might say making omelets involves the breaking of eggs-or the taking of lives-in this case.
MM: I would really ask people to read Lost Lives, which is basically the most comprehensive list and account of all those who lost their lives in Northern Ireland over a very prolonged thirty-odd year period.
And if you read that and look through the individual cases you come away from it really understanding that this wasn't about any war or conflict but that it's something that went very quickly out of control after '74.
All wars are nasty. All conflicts...I accept...there's no glory in war...there's nothing to be passionate about in terms of it - it means the fundamental loss of life and misery for people-but there was absolutely no need.
And there was a fundamental dishonesty at the heart of the movement both political, within Sinn Féin and indeed militarily within the IRA, about what they were about in terms of the violence that they wreaked on Protestant communities in Northern Ireland in particular and across the board.
Given all the agreements we've had since then, you look back at the '74 period, the Sunningdale Agreement and so on, you do ask very basic questions: Why did so many people have to lose their lives over such a prolonged period?
PK: Now I'm not justifying anything that was done by either Sinn Féin or by the IRA back in the twenties but the notion of in the border counties, the genocide of farmers or farmers' sons indeed, where there might only have been one or two children in the family, and looking at what happened, particularly in places like Cork where there was what looked like the genocide of the landed gentry or an attempt at that...I mean there are parallels.
MM: Which would be fundamentally wrong. And equally to be condemned.
I mean, TG-4 and others did very good documentaries on that and there's an ongoing debate in relation to Peter Hart's book in relation to that particular period.
But I think what we need from Sinn Féin and its leadership is genuine accountability for some of the atrocities that occurred and in particular for, if you just take the “disappeared”, if you take the case of Thomas McGeary, who I mentioned yesterday who was murdered in 1984 by a booby-trap bomb and they denied at first.
I think Sinn Féin have not come to terms with that past and have not been honest in terms of accepting that it wasn't just part of a genuine conflict within a period of power but rather that it was genocidal in some respects and also based on a sectarian approach to the other community in the North of Ireland as they would have seen it.
PK: If you take a broad brush stroke here though, you'd say Civil War in this country was caused by Fianna Fáil's rejection of the treaty ...
MM: But Fianna Fáil didn't exist during The Civil War, Pat.
PK: But the antecedents, shall we say, that gave rise to Fianna Fáil?
PK: And equally you can say that Sinn Féin, by their rejection of what they saw as an illegitimate government in Stormont, certainly contributed to The Troubles as they unfolded.
I mean, they weren't going to lie down.
John Hume - and nobody of course decided to take the non-violent route - and who knows whether or not that would have succeeded if The Troubles had not erupted in the way that they did.
MM: We know that John Hume was an outstanding politician, pacifist, a person who believed in the political route forward. And ultimately his perspective and others, particularly in The Republic, our own party played a very noble contribution to achieving peace at the end, but it just went on for far too long.
And I think when you read Voices From the Grave and other books that have just come on the scene in more recent times and the evidence of those who were directly involved you begin to see that there was a huge lie at the heart of the Provisional IRA's Movement and its campaign and I think the Sinn Féin political presentation of what went on...
PK: Are you saying....
MM: Sinn Féin needs to be far more honest and accountable for what happened and what transpired and all the denials we're receiving..
Because every political party's past is up for enquiry and investigation. And I think in this context, given the enormity of what happened-the number of lives lost, the circumstances around the “disappeared” and others-there's a need for a far greater degree of open and honest accountability about that. And honesty about it. And not to continue to portray it in the manner that Sinn Féin continue to do.
PK: However, politics is about being pragmatic and Éamon Ó Cuív points out that to look for an alternative to the present government, if the public decide that they don't want to vote for that government and he suggests they will present themselves as a government for re-election in four year's time...
Doing the sums, if Fianna Fáil recovers somewhat, Sinn Féin continues to make progress, maybe a Fianna Fáil-Sinn Féin alliance might be the only alternative?
MM: I think in the first instance the overriding objective of Fianna Fáil must be to renew itself; to develop new and fresh policies and bring new people into the party, facilitate new people coming into the electoral situation and getting elected to Councils and to Parliament.
And that's our first and overriding objective. I think we're not being presumptuous about going into government at this particular juncture.
And secondly, I think the overwhelming evidence from the RTÉ exit poll in the last General Election was about twenty-two percent of all votes went to either Fine Gael, Labour or indeed, Independents and only three percent went to Sinn Féin.
PK: So you think Éamon Ó Cuív has it wrong?
MM: I do. I think fundamentally Fianna Fáil must present itself as a credible alternative, as a credible and progressive Republican party.
I think Sinn Féin is adopting a position of opposing everything and being for very little and isn't offering an alternative vision that is practical or implementable.
PK: In fairness to Éamon Ó Cuív, by the way he does say....
MM: He does say, in fairness...
PK: that he does have at right go at Sinn Féin's their economic policies.
MM: I think he used the phrase that they're mad or something....
PK: So I don't want to suggest that Éamon Ó Cuív is at one with them on every thing. But in terms of criticising Sinn Féin and what has been achieved by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, this business: the term used by Tony Blair - “constructive ambiguity”- you know, bringing the hard man along by this kind of process, and we were reminded (again) to misquote or to borrow from Gerry Adams, “they haven't gone away, you know” with that bomb that was decommissioned by the British Army in Northern Ireland which would have killed everyone withing fifty metres of it had it exploded. I mean, that's overnight!
MM: Your point?....
PK: That sometimes it takes constructive ambiguity to stop the violence, bring people along and to apologise abjectly for some of the things that they perhaps in their hearts feel sorry for, would maybe alienate those people who felt that they put their lives on the line in vain?
MM: Well I think we've come a long distance from the Downing Street Declaration, from the Good Friday Agreement and whereas at that particular time, in terms of making the peace, yeah, there was a constructive ambiguity. Yes, decisions were taken by both the British and the Irish governments to facilitate that peace process.
But if you're entering into the full rigor of democratic politics and you feel free to attack everybody left, right and center about their sins then I think you have an obligation to be equally forthright about the sins that you've committed.
PK: And do you think there's an amnesia there?
MM: I think there is.
PK: A public amnesia that it doesn't suit everybody...I mean...
I remember Charles Haughey when we were trying to organise an interview with him on television or radio and he would say: “I'll do it as long as there's none of old that arms trial...” (and I won't use the expletive that he used).
That there comes a time when you just get tired of asking Gerry Adams: were you in the IRA? why don't you own up? etc, etc, etc...
MM: But that goes to the heart of the integrity argument in politics.
I think people do find it incomprehensible and find it very difficult to believe that Gerry Adams was not in the IRA given all the evidence and testimony to the contrary and commentry from fellow confidantes at that time.
And that creates a huge credibility problem, in my view, for Gerry Adams and for Sinn Féin and indeed for Martin McGuinness.
And I think: yes, people were very, very weary of the North and became very weary because of the longevity of it.
But equally we are, in more recent times, beginning to hear in much more starker terms and clearer terms what actually went on within the Provisional IRA Movement.
They have been particularly disciplined in terms of preventing alot of stuff from coming out and holding it all together and the edifice together.
But the Voices From the Grave and other testimonies are beginning to give a different story. Which is important by the way in terms of the culture.
You mentioned the Real IRA and the dissidents and what they're doing and when I was the Minister of Affairs we did a lot of work to try and develop cross-community healing to work with Cooperation Ireland, for example, and young people in marginalised communities in the North on both the Loyalist side and the Republican side to take them away from the culture of violence, the culture of the gun, the bomb the bullet.
And unfortunately unless there's greater honesty from all those who were involved...I think from that honesty will come a far more effective tool and approach to preventing a younger generation from going down the route of violence in the North. That's a critical issue for us.
PK: I know there are many, and we talked about amnesia a moment ago...but there is virtually no one of a certain age who does not remember and condemn Enniskillen- what went on there; the murder of people at The Cenotaph.
People remember the cowardly murder of Lord Mountbatten. People remember the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe.
And yet, in spite of knowing all of those things, which are very much in the public domain unlike some of the things that you've mentioned that you'd almost have to do research to learn about them, in spite of all that they are prepared to accept members of Sinn Féin in Dáil Éireann without heaping odium upon them at every hand's turn.
MM: Yes and people do have the freedom to vote at the ballot box and people do that. But equally, in terms of political debate and discourse, these are very legitimate issues to raise.
And I think it's very, very important that, in the context of my speech yesterday at Arbour Hill, it's very important that Sinn Féin would de-mythologise their war in The North and their conflict in The North if for no other reason to prevent future generations from going down a very futile path.
And indeed if you talk to some of the ex-combatants who have gotten away from the Provisional IRA Movement, they do that a lot. They actually talk to a lot of young people in those communities in the North warning them and saying: “Don't allow the armchair generals walk you down a life of misery, a life of death and destruction”.
And so there's a very compelling case for those who were involved in the Provisional IRA and those who are still involved in that movement to be far more opened and honest about the needlessness, the futility, of what went on for the last thirty-odd years.
PK: Are you ruling out any coalition with Sinn Féin while you're leader of Fianna Fáil?
MM: As leader of Fianna Fáil...I mean...we will campaign on our own.
PK: No, but are you ruling it out? It mean it could happen that the numbers might stack up after the next General Election. I mean are you ruling it out definitively?
MM: We've no compatibility with the Sinn Féin economic platform, with its platform on Europe, so certainly we would not be going into government with Sinn Féin.
PK: But I mean on the basis of what you've said about their history, that alone should be enough for you to say: “No! Never.”
MM: That's one aspect of it and you're right in identifying that as a key issue for me but equally a key issue, in terms of the future and the generations to come, is the direction that Ireland takes.
And I think Sinn Féin's fundamental policy platform is one that would move Ireland to an isolationist position in terms of both Europe and a global context. And secondly, towards economic policies that would de-incentivise enterprise...would be fundamentally about over-taxation...and I think would lead to a loss of jobs and a loss of economic credibility....
PK: And that brings us on to the Fiscal Compact which your party is supporting a “yes” vote in the forthcoming referendum. However, Éamon Ó Cuív, no longer deputy leader, no longer on the front bench, is going to be actively campaigning for a “no” vote.
MM: Well I think first of all it's important for the Irish people in my view that we vote “yes”.
I see no upside at all in voting “no”. I don't see anything to be gained from voting “no”. And I haven't heard anything from anybody that would suggest that there are actually significant gains to be made.
PK: The Sinn Féin line is that it consigns us to a generation... or indeed...austerity forever! Not just a generation.
MM: I think it's the opposite, actually. I think if you vote “no” you run the risk of a more accelerated pace of austerity than we're currently experiencing.
Because you create an insecure and uncertain scenario in terms of our capacity to access funds, to continue to borrow, not just for the deficit which is fifteen billion this year, but for the significant debt that we have that we have to continue to sustain into the future.
PK: And in The Sunday Times article yesterday we certainly muddied the waters quoting Bill Murray of the IMF that “Ireland could apply to the IMF for another bailout irrespective of a “no” vote.”
MM: Yes. But I heard Karl Whelan this morning on Morning Ireland and I thought he very intelligently and in an articulate way I think dealt with that.
Of course, one can apply to the IMF. But it's the circumstances and the context in which one applies that will actually determine whether it's a good or a bad idea to leave the ESM or to rule out the prospect of accessing money from the European Stability Mechanism and take your chances.
PK: If you didn't hear Karl Whelan, by the way, we should clarify what he said is: Yes, you could go to the IMF. They would give us a fraction of the money that we currently need. (This is now if we did need to continue the bailout mechanism).
And he said that it would accelerate the need for austerity because we'd have to balance the budget quicker so presumably that would have impacts on social welfare, service pay and all the rest.
MM: I've made the point in my Dáil speeches over the last month or so since the treaty was published that actually if we vote “yes” we have a prospect of reducing the cost of the borrowing into the future because of the access to the ESM.
We may never need to avail of it, hopefully, but at least it's an essential backstop in terms of our capacity to borrow from markets...
PK: But others have said that Ireland should actually have a card to play and this is one card we could play: that we're not going to be Europe's lapdog. We're not going to be a push-over (for) every referendum they throw at us.
We eventually pass it because we are the best boys in the class. And the only way to make them listen to us about the promissory notes and about
transferring the bank debt into long-term, it's already sovereign debt because we own the banks, but that the only way to get something from Europe is to play tough.
MM: But what card is there to play?
I mean, if one votes “no”, if the country votes “no”, well other countries will just get on with it. They don't need Ireland to go ahead with this compact, with this agreement.
PK: They'll just do it anyway.
MM: They'll just do it anyway. The real card to play...and look...this treaty's not a panacea. It's not the ideal solution.
I've argued for a more extensive approach to the crises in terms of the European Central Bank being given additional powers in terms of being the lender of last resort.
I've argued that we need a true fiscal union in terms of Europe showing a Pan-European stimulus approach with considerable more spending at the European level to ensure a growth agenda.
PK: Francois Hollande is looking for that and who knows after next Sunday what will happen? But the starting...
MM: The momentum is developing at long last; we've been at this for a good year....
PK: But the starting gun has been fired this morning. There are many people now beginning to think: perhaps we should just defer?
It doesn't look like the government is thinking about deferral at all.
But given the muddying of the waters by France and particularly if Monsieur Hollande becomes president next week then you'll get into a round of talks with Angela Merkel- those talks will be on-going right up to the moment when we are voting...it's not exactly helpful.
MM: It's not.
And ideally it would have been better if the referendum was at the end of June. I did articulate that position but we are where we are.
I don't think by the way that Francois Hollande will change or has any desire for example to change the conditionality of the ESM as being part of the treaty. I think what he clearly has signaled is a desire to have a growth agenda attached to the treaty and clearer and more concrete efforts to promote growth across Europe.
Now that's something we would support.
And again, the capacity's there to do that because the treaty's not exclusive of that. The treaty doesn't prevent European countries coming together in a month's time, two month's time and agreeing on new policies and additional policies to what's contained in the treaty.
PK: But wouldn't it be an easier sell for you, Fine Gael and Labour if that was in place?
MM: It would be an easier sell, of course it would be.
And I've argued for that. But equally, I come back and make the very simple point that I think if we vote “yes” we actually enhance the prospect of actually being in the position to borrow money at cheaper rates and that's an important issue into the future so that the cost of debt can be easier than it might otherwise be.
And secondly I see absolutely no upside in voting “no”.
I don't see any gains, concrete gains coming from voting “no”.
What I see is insecurity. I see uncertainty in voting “no”. I see far more certainty in terms of accessing money...and let's remember...we're accessing money for education, for social welfare for health.
And I've met teachers, I met them in Malahide when I was canvassing last week, for example, who are already are very upset and annoyed at cuts and so on like that, and the only way we can access fifteen billion this year to bridge the gap between what we take in in taxes and what we spend is actually via the mechanism to get to us.
PK: But what I don't hear, and the campaigns in early stages, but I don't hear Fianna Fáil or Labour or yourselves indeed spelling out in stark terms out that kind of message: “Listen, if you vote “no” and we're still in trouble, social welfare's going be cut, teachers' salaries are going to be cut, public service pensions are going to be cut.” I don't hear you saying that.
Are you saying though that that is the reality but it's not going to be the main campaign plank? Because you know what the reaction will be: you'll be accused of scaremongering and all the rest.
MM: Yes, people have said that. They call it the “blackmail clause” and so on.
But I've been very clear that the issue of access to the European Stability Mechanism is a very important issue for the people of this country and it's an issue of self-interest.
What's in the best interests of families, of young people? Well I think it basically is to make sure that we do have access to a secure funding base and I think the alternative, if we vote “no”, I think does create uncertainty.
And I'm not saying one way or another you couldn't apply to the IMF...I think you could but I think, as Karl Whelan and others would say, you may not get the money you want and you may get it in different terms and of course, we must also realise that the IMF is already lending money to Ireland along with the European Union authorities, so they're already in programme.
PK: Are you concerned that there may be a lot of support for deputy Ó Cuív's stance within Fianna Fáil?
MM: I think within the the Parliamentary Party, indeed. But in the membership I think the majority has consistently been for the treaty.
I think what's important is that the campaign is “de-governmentalised” if you'd like and made less partisan. And that we should argue on the merits and the content of the treaty itself.
PK: Are you happy that all your other Deputies and Senators will toe the line?
MM: Yes. Absolutely. We will be campaigning. We will be launching our campaign this week as well...I think the government is doing it this week. And we'll have our posters, leaflets and we'll be knocking on doors and we'll be campaigning to persuade people that it's in the best interest of Ireland to vote “yes”.
PK: Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, thank you very much for joining us from the Cork studio.
MM: Thank you, Pat.