Plans to organise in North off the agenda


FIANNA FÁIL has indefinitely put off plans to organise in Northern Ireland - despite serious consideration of the issue last year, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said.

For now, the party will concentrate on implementing the internal strategic review due to be finished within weeks by the party's general secretary Seán Dorgan.

The prospect of organising in Northern Ireland, and eventually contesting elections there, was one of the main issues at last year's meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party in Co Wicklow.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern was then put in charge of a committee to investigate the matter further, but little more was heard.

Questioned about the matter yesterday, the Taoiseach made it clear that it was not one of his priorities for now. "We haven't actually proceeded with it. A number of other issues arose since then in terms of the North itself," he said.

Progress on the issue was further delayed by Bertie Ahern's departure from office and the succession of Mr Cowen, he acknowledged. "We have obviously had a change of leadership. [The North] remains an option for the party, but I am concentrating . . . on the strategic review of our own organisation within the Republic," he said.

Any decision to organise in Northern Ireland would have to be taken first by the national executive, and then ratified at an ardfheis.

The possibility that Fianna Fáil might operate in Northern Ireland complicated for a time the party's relations with the SDLP.

The decision to put it to one side may now offer opportunities for closer formal ties between the two parties, although a significant section of SDLP support would favour linking with Labour.

Questioned about next month's budget, Mr Cowen made it clear that all infrastructure projects, bar the completion of major motorways, are being reconsidered.

The Government will offer leadership to the public, he continued. "People expect their Government to come forward with the appropriate response for what is a new situation that we are dealing with. That is what they expect from their Government, and they are entitled to expect that . . . we have to make our moves now."

During their second day of debate, the parliamentary party heard presentations from two senior medical figures: Dr Garry Courtney of St Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny and Dr Colin Doherty, consultant neurologist, St James's Hospital, Dublin.

St Luke's has brought in reforms that have all but rid its accident and emergency of queues by diverting patients directly to the medical treatments they need.

Calling on others to follow the example, the Taoiseach said more innovation and reorganisation is required: "They are not saying we need more money to solve the problem. They want more people embracing change as a means of using existing resources [and] reallocating existing resources to more productive purposes."