Over on the Vincent Browne thread Puff Daddy posted today's Irish Daily Mail frontpage which surely makes astonishing reading:
So over the last few days/week they have been talking about maybe 8 FG TDs going then that swelled to 15, TDs and Senators, now it seems the party bosses had done their sums and totaled up 25 or so TDs and five to seven Senators added to that.
It's true that many no doubt would fiddle with the numbers and make that bigger or smaller but it seems a foregone conclusion that if the government go ahead with the legislation that FG TDs and Senators will break off in sufficient numbers to form immediately quite a big Irish political party (after all even FF have only 20 TDs and it seems this party could exceed that). They will form a new party because FG have made it clear that they will remove the whip from them if they vote against it and in these circumstances why not forge ahead and form a new party when you already have such a large core of TDs and Senators? And indeed there are many media reports already talking this way.
But that would be completely unprecedented in modern politics here and would strike you as quite an earthquake to hit the Irish political establishment. As far as I know the only modern precedent for anything like this would have to be the foundation of the PDs but they only took 3 TDs from FF, and one from FG, so that is obviously a poor enough comparison. Another example might be the Labour Party split of 1944 which gave you in 1948: 5 National Labour TDs to 14 Labour TDs so that would be a similar type of split but on a much smaller scale to this one. In truth then this split can only be compared to the break in Sinn Fein in the winter of 1921/22 and to the earlier split between Parnell and Healy and co. of 1890.
So what are the implications of all this?
I think first of all it is likely to concentrate the minds of those FG TDs who intend voting for the legislation and who intend competing in the next General Election. (You have to make the latter distinction because I'd say you will find that the big FGs grandees, like Shatter and Kenny himself I'd say, have no intention of going up the next time. It would be very difficult for them, including Kenny in Mayo on this issue, and so why bother? It will be like the exFF big wigs like Cowan, last time you heard from him he was somewhere in California, or Conor Lenihan involved in making millions in Moscow etc etc. And of course the transition will be eased by huge pensions...)
But for those pro legislation FG TDs who are in for the long haul I think they previously will have been banking on two things:
a) That the electorate will just forget about it, at least in part, by the time of the next election. They calculate on the short term memory of the electorate, and that's usually a safe enough bet, but now if they have to compete with a kind of Continuity Fine Gael party, and one who split off on this issue, then they can be sure it will be a lively topic in the next election.
b) They will be thinking that anyway the pro-life constituency will have no one else to vote for in any case. All they could do is vote FF maybe, and that would go against the grain and anyway the FF leadership are maybe milk and watery on the issue, only following along an overwhelming mood within their party. Some critics of FF - which is obviously the traditional FG electorate - would postulate that the leadership could abandon that position later.
Then who else is there? SF - much to the dismay of many of their members in the North - have now gone quite pro-choice and the Labour Party are already there etc. Meanwhile the likes of the Christian Solidarity Party get no publicity, or at least no positive publicity, and so most of the electorate wouldn't know about them or who their candidates are so they are not considered a viable alternative.
These pro-legislation FG TDs will know that and they reckon that when push comes to shove that the old FG voters might as well vote them back in because of this lack of alternatives.
This then is also blown apart by the formation of a new Fíor Fine Gael party which will obviously then provide that alternative quite possibly in all constituencies in Ireland, maybe even in time for the Local Elections.
So now all bets are off for those type of FG TDs and hence my take on it is that this will snowball as it dawns on people that there is going to be a new Fine Gael party on the horizon. I think more and more FG TDs will join the split and so the government will either abandon the idea of this legislation or we will be entering some exciting times in Irish politics!