John Downing: 'Tóibín's breakaway may pose more danger to FF than SF'

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.

Irish Independent