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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 11, 2010 @ 1:58 am

    Can Fianna Fail save its own skin?

    Mary Minihan

    The extraordinary events unfolding within the Labour Party in Britain have got me thinking about what the next general election here might mean for Fianna Fail.

    When it comes to elections, expected wipe-outs don’t always happen and predicted surges don’t always materialise. Assumptions can be confounded.

    Transport Minister Noel Dempsey was reported at the weekend as saying anyone who believed the outcome of the next election was decided already was fooling themselves. He pointed to the not-quite-clear result in Britain to back up his argument.

    I think he meant that as the Tories didn’t do quite as well as lots of people thought they might, Fine Gael and Labour should be wary of taking the voters’ support for granted.

    But the opinion polls make consistently chilling reading for the Fianna Fail faithful, and the party’s activist base and structures in the cities, in particular, have weakened beyond recognition in recent years.

    Is it possible to bounce back from such a low point? Two former ministers, Gerard Collins and Chris Flood, have been quietly compiling a detailed internal report with the unspectacular title ‘Recommendations for Organisational Reform’. I’ve written about it here: http://bit.ly/dhMBPT

    It doesn’t make any crazy claims for success. Much of it is concerned with administrative detail that a worker for any party would probably consider practical. It prescribes modest, city-specific measures to improve organisation in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. But it has the tone of an organisation that has not yet given up the ghost.

    In summary, the report proposes the immediate establishment of a “Dublin reorganisation implementation group”. One of its key tasks would be preparing for the Dublin mayoral election.

    All registered members in the Dublin area would have a right to “one-member, one-vote” participation in the selection of the party’s mayoral candidate. An electoral register of members should be devised for the process, “thereby creating the opportunity to clarify and quantify the actual extent of party membership . . . across the entire Dublin Euro constituency”. While the party may feel it has little chance of success in this particular contest, that could be a way of readying what remain of the troops in Dublin for future campaigns.

    Many of the party’s city-based cumainn exist only to hold voting rights at candidate selection conventions. The report says if responsibility for candidate selection was devolved to individual activists under the “one-member, one-vote” system, the phenomena of “paper cummain” would be eliminated. This seems sensible.

    Each Dublin constituency should hold one fundraiser every year with proceeds going to headquarters and Fianna Fail TDs not intending to contest the next general election in Dublin constituencies should inform the party immediately. We are living in unpredictable times, after all…

    But who could give you an objective analysis of what all this might achieve in a general election situation? You could predict the responses you’d get from Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein personnel.

    So let’s ask Independent TD Joe Behan, who left Fianna Fail over medical card cuts last year but retains a deep knowledge of the party’s culture, for his view of what the next general election could entail for the senior coalition partner.

    “Other parties know in their heart of hearts that this isn’t going to be as easy as it looks. I think it’ll be the mother of all battles when the time comes,” Behan says.

    He disputes widespread predictions the party will be wiped out. “I’d be slow to write off Fianna Fail because I know the loyalty there is among the real activists who still support the party no matter what,” he said.

    Fianna Fail must not only reform and improve its internal organisation, he says, it must also “restore its link with the plain people of Ireland”.

    • Liam says:

      I’d say the difference is that Labour in the UK can only be accused of benign neglect. FF on the other hand was one of the main players in pointing the economy at the iceberg. I’m sure our country brethern will still vote for the likes of O’Donaghue in droves but it just goes to show how backward our system is and how insular people can be

    • Liam, I’m no defender of this government. I’ve lived in Dublin and Limerick both cities in the Irish context for the vast majority of my adult life but I also grow up in Kerry South so I’ve some knowledge of both urban and rural political environments. And your comment that it is only the country brethren that are backward, insular mé fein voters is dead wrong. People in our cities are just as bad when it comes to cleaving to their own local petty self interest at election time.

      Both Finian McGrath and Tony Gregory before him are merely better educated Jackie Healy Raes in tweed jackets. And don’t tell me Joe Higgins got elected because his electorate were reading Das Kapital, it was because it took a Kerryman to do the hard shovel work of socialism by doing the slog work of clinic, local meetings, medical cards and whatever other advice people wanted. So give over on the notion that it’s the culchies that are holding the country back from an enlightened politics. It’s everyone, everywhere!

    • Liam says:

      Fair point , lets just say from my point of view it seems more blatant in rural areas. My own family come from South Kerry as well and its pretty obvious that TD’s have a priest like function in their communities down there . I can barely remember who my local TD’s are in Dublin South East and I could care less what they do locally.

    • Kynos says:

      People really have no idea of what’s coming down the pike do they? No matter. Please God the next two year will make an end of Fianna Fail, but not of Ireland.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      There have been all manner of revelations concerning FF over the years and it is only now that its poll ratings have dipped below 25% and in the elections that have been held its vote has fallen in actual terms on a scale that has never happened before – there’s no reason to doubt it happening again in the general election which can’t be more than 2 years away – even less as it gets nearer and tempers fray.

      Add in that the builder money pit has dried up and corporate donations can’t be so blatant – there’s a limit to how much under the counter money FF can rake in without drawing attention, then there are the party members and the lack of people to knock on doors – ask someone who has knocked on doors for FF and they’ll tell you the anger toward them is not nice – life ong activists will have never experienced anything remotely close to it before.

      These are signs that the grip FF has had over Irish people, like that of the church, has been broken but it will take time to be completely put into the past so FF will still get at least 20% – which is 20% too much.

      A sad thing though is that those expecting Fine Gael or Labour to put through the scale of reform the country needs will be sorely disappointed – the example of people like Richard Bruton and Ruairi Quinn not understanding how sickening it was they have been bleeding off pensions while lecturing others on taking cuts is not a good sign that they have any credibility to deliver monumental reform on a scale Ireland has never experienced – if they can’t even understand how wrong politicians pensions’, pay and perks are then what hope can we have?

    • Liam, Dublin South East and Dublin South are aberrant constituencies even in Dublin. Take a long hard look at Dublin North West, or Dublin North East, or Dublin Central, hell almost any of the rest of the Dublin constituencies, are those FFers elected by the good people of those areas intended to be figures of national repute? Or messenger boys and girls to bring home bacon and massage the tender concerns of “de people” looking for a council house or some help getting the medical card?

      Last night on Frontline Micheal Martin spoke against list systems because it would, in his view, involve people getting elected who thought themselves too good to knock on a door and look for people’s support. That is nonsense, I’ve run in elections and think it is grand to be out knocking on people’s doors at election time actively asking people to support you. The problem is if you spend, as many TDs including ministers do, loads of your time between elections knocking on doors up and down the constituency when you will find the time to do the job you were elected to do instead of constantly looking merely to keep the job.

    • Kynos says:

      well I had couple FF canvassers come to my door before the 07 5en lec and wasn’t anything ut nice to them they were just ordinary people a man and a woman I’d say in their sixties or seventies they were’t teedees or cainet ministers yes they support the part that’s betrayed Ireland to cowardice inhumanity and rapine most and I politely informed them that FF would get my vote when the devil skates to work but thay was no reason not to offer them a cup of tea in the hand.

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