Come all ye faithful and hear humble Micheál’s party parable: fly Fianna Fáil – a fare away from Recovery
The chief’s keynote address was the rhetorical equivalent of beige: nondescript
Seán Haughey watches party leader Micheál Martin addressing the faithful: Photograph: Alan Betson
Delegate Michael Dullea from Clonakilty makes a call on the second day of the 74th ardfheis in the RDS. Photograph: Alan Betson
Fianna Fáil party leader Micheál Martin spars with the media on the margins of the ardfheis. Photograph: Alan Betson
Hello. It’s us again.
In your living room.
No, honestly, we’re grand sitting here quietly in the corner, saying nothing.
Don’t get up on our account
Tip-toeing gingerly towards redemption, Fianna Fáil staged a polite cough of a conference at the weekend and prayed nobody would notice them much.
What they really wanted to do was put themselves about in public again without sparking a stampede. It was a type of socialisation exercise: a careful attempt to slowly regain the confidence and acceptance of a distrustful and annoyed public.
It’s still far too early to draw major attention to the party. That could easily inflame passions which have scarcely subsided.
Instead, Fianna Fáil’s aim was to gently reintroduce themselves to normal society and help the public get used to the idea of having them around once more.
Under the circumstances, bells and whistles would only have frightened off the masses and reminded them of the bad old days.
Fortunately, Micheál Martin doesn’t do brash. The party leader is happy with humble and meek, which is no mean feat for a man who spent a decade-and-a-half swanning around the cabinet table in three successive governments.
His keynote address on Saturday night wasn’t one of the great rhetorical achievements of our time, although canny parents who switched over to hear him were rewarded by the sound of snoring offspring well before the nine o’clock watershed.
It was the rhetorical equivalent of beige – bland and nondescript background noise. The faithful dutifully applauded in all the right places, but never reached the levels of abandon witnessed at ardfheiseanna past.
Last year’s conference, struggling to get out from under the shadow of ghosts past and pressing embarrassments, felt more upbeat. Perhaps this was down to Fianna Fáil’s fighting spirit and the determination of its committed members to bond and build up the party again. They were in the wilderness back then, but striking out for civilisation. There was a touch of excitement about it all.
Now, they’re slogging away on that journey. It’s a difficult one and they must be careful about how and where they tread.
Observers remarked that the atmosphere in the RDS was flat – there was no buzz around the place which, it seems, is exactly how the strategists wanted it.
Still. We can always rely on Senator Terry Leyden to stir things up a little.
The Roscommon notice-box was speaking during the session on education when he concluded with a declaration on abortion.
Right to life
“Just to say, finally, what is more important than pre-school schooling but the right to life? Without the right to life you’ve no pre schooling, you’ve no schooling. All I’ll say to you is, this is the big issue of the day and we have to ensure that our policies are continued into the future.”
Martin said later that the comments were somewhat “excessive.” Nevertheless, Leyden was onside with all but one of the speakers when delegates overwhelmingly called for Fianna Fáil to reaffirm its position as an anti-abortion party and opposed any moves to legislate for abortion on the grounds of risk of suicide.
We saw the Iona Institute’s Patricia Casey in the main hall, wearing a delegate’s badge, but she didn’t speak at the debate.
Health spokesman Billy Kelleher gave a nuanced reply at the end of the session. It won’t have gone down well with the vocal majority in the hall, but he kept the party’s options open.
The biggest and most heartfelt cheer of the day also came in the health debate when the chairman declared that the motion expressing no confidence in Minister for Health James Reilly had been passed.
Round of applause
The delegates whooped and
In the pantomime cast of political bogey men, Dr Reilly just about shaded Alan Shatter in the villainy stakes.
About 2,000 filled the hall for the main event. Senator Darragh O’Brien from north Co Dublin was chosen to perform the warm-up speech, getting the bragging and boasting well out of the way before modest Micheál did his 30 minute excuse me.
The party has had a hugely successful recruitment drive, O’Brien told the crowd, “making us, by a mile, the biggest party in this land”. Not only that, but the young people are clamouring to become part of the “new Fianna Fáil”.
There weren’t many of them in evidence on Saturday night, but to be fair they materialised in force at the nearby Ballsbridge Hotel for the ardfheis get-together where happy delegates dared to dream of a comeback. It was a lively event, and a world away from the insipid sincerity of conference.
Back at the RDS, Micheál performed in the round on the same octagonal stage as last time. When he made his entrance, he had to swivel to salute the audience, like an air steward pointing out the emergency exits.
God be with the days
This was apt, as the slogan for the weekend sounded like an advert for an airline company: Fly Fianna Fáil – a fare away to Recovery.
Because there is “a fairer way” said Micheál, setting out his party’s fair way to heaven. This is not the same as Sinn Féin’s “there is a better way”. And it certainly isn’t the Fine Gael and Labour way.
“They said they wanted change, but actually, all they wanted was their turn” he thundered.
Given that Micheál’s lot hogged the ball for years upon years, you can hardly blame them for wanting their turn. That’s only fair.
His speech ended with the traditional race to join the leader on the platform, but even that was tame. God be with the days when emergency departments were on red alert for gouging related injuries following the leader’s speech.
But then, this particular one wasn’t intended to galvanise the electorate but rather, to give them a gentle nudge in the party’s direction.
It was Fianna Fáil’s self-effacing ardfheis. A party political stealth conference for the new Soldiers of Humility.
Can’t see that lasting. Because if they go up any more in the polls they’ll burst.