FINE GAEL’S supposed coup in recruiting former SDLP leader, Mark ‘Muirsheen’ Durkan, as their Dublin Euro candidate looks like bombing, despite Leo Varadkar’s initial hubris in putting one over on Micheál Martin and Fianna Fail. Meanwhile, the southern parties are cannibalising the SDLP, a party that they once championed against the dark forces of violent Republicanism.
Martin’s capricious attitude to the SDLP, and the jilting of the northern party at the altar rails recently, has resulted in the party of John Hume now split three ways. Formally, there is a semi-detached FF/SDLP relationship, but no consummation of the loose arrangement after decisions taken by the two parties. But last week in north Dublin, Labour’s Dublin European candidate, Alex White, shared a platform with SDLP grandee, Brid Rogers, in a public meeting about Brexit. That’s FF, FG and Labour now picking the northern party’s carcass.
Durkan’s public statement of intent, to remain in Derry while running for office 150 miles away in Dublin, will hardly endear him to voters in Mount Merrion and other FG heartlands. And the once proud SDLP — a beacon of light in the black north — retains little of the former stature it possessed in the days of St John Hume and even less voter appeal in the south.
There is also the small matter of Durkan’s running mate, Frances Fitzgerald, the Judi Dench of Fine Gael and someone that Durkan should be wary of. Judi has been round the political block and knows the dangers inherent in having ambitious (presumptuous, even) colleagues on the same ticket. Fitzgerald will be grateful for a sizeable vote transfer from Muirsheen, but will not be enthusiastic about him securing too healthy a first preference vote. And Durkan will need a sizeable number of such votes if he is to stay in the race in Dublin (a four-seat constituency unless the Brits run in the Euro elections in which case Muirsheen can kiss goodbye to his slim chances of a Euro seat).
Durkan has already been embarrassed by the contradictions between the SDLP and the Blueshirts, as witnessed when the FG group of MEPs went along with the decision of their colleagues in the European Peoples Party (EPP) to give Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, a slap on the wrist. This followed Orban’s anti-immigrant policies among other provocations against the Party of European Socialists (PES), the EU social democrat grouping to which the SDLP belongs. Deciding to row in with the appeasement of Orban by FG and the EPP was not Muirsheen’s finest hour.
Which is where White’s stroke in recruiting the fragrant personage of Rogers — the SDLP’s Maggie Smith —was so telling. Rogers spent much of her time at the Dublin Labour meeting excoriating the Shinners for not taking their seats in Westminster. But the real danger she poses to Muirsheen is her ‘social-democrat ethos’ and the embarrassment this can cause to Durkan who has taken the Blueshirt shilling.
Few people expect a former Labour minister, with all the negativity that entails, to take a Dublin Euro seat, but White’s image is not as alienating as, say, Brendan Howlin or Joan Burton. If there is a fourth seat up for grabs, then a strong Independent candidate is likely take it. So far, none has openly declared and if it stays that way then White, while still unlikely to take a seat, could provide the beginnings of a revival for a party that is in even worse shape than the SDLP.