FIANNA Fáil’s pathetic effort at negative campaigning, which they denied they were doing, was so ham-fisted that it backfired badly on them and begs the question as to why they should be let back into government again. Their prominent billboard with a huge image of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the Fine Gael logo and the legend ‘I won’t end the scandal of patients on trolleys. Tax cuts for the wealthiest come first’ was meant to be ironic but – without very close scrutiny – it would be lost on most people as the reference to Fianna Fáil as the alternative was too small to read easily.
The truly ironic twist it provided was that anyone passing by in a car would take it, at first glance, as an advertisement for Fine Gael, thereby defeating the purpose for which it was intended. Negative campaigning is part and parcel of politics nowadays, but is an art in itself and needs to be executed skillfully in order to succeed.
This was like a case of the kettle calling the pot black, as the message carried by the poster could just as easily have applied to Fianna Fáil’s own time in government from 1997 to 2007 at least; how quickly they forget. But, the public – while they may be fickle when it comes to being taken in by fanciful election promises – are not fools either and the episode marked a bad start to Fianna Fáil’s election campaign, undermining their credentials for a return to power.
The worst part of it for them was that they officially put the poster out there and set themselves up for ridicule, possibly spurred on by a ‘leaked’ draft of a Labour Party poster depicting Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and his Sinn Féin counterpart Gerry Adams getting hitched in a same-sex marriage ceremony. The difference was that Labour were able to opine that it was never meant to be published, while still able to get in a few digs at the two main opposition parties.
Fine Gael got in on the act last weekend also, to coincide with the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis, with a clever ad containing a picture of a ‘ghost estate’ from the Celtic Tiger era, urging people: ‘Don’t let Fianna Fáil come back to haunt us.’ Fianna Fáil are in a no-win situation when it comes to this kind of campaigning and would be better off trying something different if they hope to win voters back.
If Fianna Fáil are so set on not coalescing with either Fine Gael on the one hand or Sinn Féin on the other to form the next government, depending on how the numbers of seats stack up, the best thing that they can hope for is to be the main opposition party. To achieve this, they need to be on top of their game at election time as they are taking on a well-resourced and canny opposition – with nothing to lose – in Sinn Féin.
Even though Fianna Fáil did well in the 2014 elections, taking 25% of all local authority seats in the country, they have not built on this in the opinion polls, going backwards if anything. Sinn Féin had the added bonus of further success in the European Parliament elections two years ago and groomed a new generation of young female candidates, while Fianna Fáil’s main success story in Europe, Bandon’s Brian Crowley, abandoned them after being convincingly being re-elected.
Sinn Féin are making an all-out bid to increase their Dáil representation, but opinion poll figures may not necessarily translate into equivalent electoral success. While Fianna Fáil got a slight boost in the latest opinion polls, the bottom line is that, if want to continue to have more Dáil seats than Sinn Féin, they will need to abandon the type of negative campaigning that backfired so badly on them last week – or else get better at it!