Fianna Fail faces crisis in party's structure, says report

 

The Fianna Fáil party is facing a serious organisational crisis according to a confidential internal party report which shows its membership now estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000, or less than half of what party officials originally believed, writes Liam Reid, Political Reporter

The report by Minister for Finance Brian Cowen paints a picture of a rural, ageing and increasingly inactive grassroots organisation. Nearly half of its party activists are over 55 years of age, one quarter of the party's local organisations are inactive, and 50 per cent of the local Fianna Fáil groups meet once a year or less.

Mr Cowen, who was appointed last autumn to head up an organisational reform committee for the party, warns there are "probably more members dying than joining Fianna Fáil". While acknowledging this is a major problem, he says it is a problem shared by other political parties.

The report also outlines plans for a major reorganisation and recruitment drive to get under way within weeks. His report to members of the party's national executive outlined the results of detailed research carried out by the party late last year, based on interviews with 2,500 officers from cumainn - the basic local organisational unit - around the country.

"It pointed to significant organisational deficits," Mr Cowen states. "As a party we have to face up to a number of challenges." The survey showed that, apart from one quarter of cumainn being inactive, 58 per cent admitted to having had no new member in three years, while half met a maximum of once a year.

The report also states that the party had "probably 15,000 to 20,000 actual members", even though there were over 50,000 names on the party's database.

Fewer than 14,000 members claimed to have canvassed at election time. This compares with a time when the party claimed to be one of the largest and most active local organisations in the country.

The only reliable comparative figure for another political organisation is the Labour Party, which had just over 4,000 registered members during its "one member, one vote" leadership election in 2002. Fine Gael has previously said it has more than 30,000 members, although it is likely that active membership is much lower.

Mr Cowen's report also states that Fianna Fáil has "a largely rural-based organisational structure and membership".

The survey showed that just 1 per cent of party officers were aged 25 or under, falling to half of 1 per cent in Connacht and Ulster, while 45 per cent were aged 55 or over.

"It is clear that many current structures and practices do not work," Mr Cowen's report states. "We urgently need new members of all ages throughout the country."

The report says that the cumann structure was based "away from the population centres" and that active cumainn "actively discourage new members joining the party".

"This has to change. There is little point in the party investing in a national membership recruitment drive when interested members of the public continually have their applications for membership ignored or refused by cumainn." Mr Cowen says "we have to return to the culture of inviting supporters to join Fianna Fáil".

"We must be a more welcoming party to people . . . we seem to have lost confidence in our own abilities to attract others to join us."

His report also announces a new membership drive to recruit 10,000 new party members, where people will join the party directly and not have to join a cumann if they do not wish to.

Members will be charged a nominal fee of €15 per year, which is "not for the sake of raising money. Rather, I believe that having to pay a small fee will demonstrate a serious level of commitment".

The report was prompted by Fianna Fáil's poor performance during the local elections last June.