‘Recovery for All’ translates into realpolitik English as ‘Recovery for Fianna Fáil’
Delegates quietly confident of election bounce-back in May, but scope is limited
Micheál Martin with (from left) Seán Fleming TD, Margaret Conlon, Monaghan candidate, Cllr Mary Fitzpatrick, Dublin European candidate Kate Feeney and Frank Kennedy, candidates for Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
It was hard to get any sense at this weekend’s Fianna Fáil’s ardfheis that this is the same party that led the country to the precipice, that got hammered in the 2011 general election, and that faced difficult and searching questions at the time about whether or not it would survive.
Sure the party is still in lesser circumstances, and it knows that the road to recovery is going to be a long one. But at the same time its horizons have broadened and there is a strong sense that it is confident of a strong bounce-back in May’s elections. Beyond that it sees itself and Fine Gael being very much re-established as the “big two” by the time of the next election (notwithstanding the growing threat from Sinn Féin). And beyond that, an opportunity to regain the prime spot.
If there is any realisation of past mistakes, perhaps it is this: that the party will never have that kind of hegemony it enjoyed – almost interrupted – for 80 years.
The party will change. It will be a little more liberal, a little more left of centre, a little more women-centric. But as Fine Gael and Labour’s “democratic revolution” showed, it will not change as much as it thinks it will, or as much as it would like us to think. Its “new politics” will, over time – especially if it returns to power – revert to a “not so new politics” and maybe even to “old politics”.
Electorally, there is no doubt that Fianna Fáil is on a long- term upward curve (although it has slowed down of late).
That said, party TDs and strategists are being very careful to manage expectations.
The local and European elections aren’t going to produce any Lazarus-like miracles, or 1977 landslides, or Bertie’s third term.
As a point of fact, the party is unsure if it can match its mediocre 2009 local election results, when it won 218 seats. Then it got 25.4 per cent of the vote.
That was a poor result at the time but a hell of a lot better than the general election a year and a half later, when it got 17 per cent of the popular vote.
Micheál Martin and his senior colleagues have been careful not to predict how many seats the party will win in the local elections. He got a lot of coverage over the weekend for his claims about Phil Hogan’s gerrymandering of local electoral areas.