Fianna Fáil Ardfheis: Whoops from the party faithful

Pre-election mood was in full swing, as delegates were eager to get back canvassing

The Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin speaking at the party’s Ard Fheis, at Citywest, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

The Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin speaking at the party’s Ard Fheis, at Citywest, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Micheál Martin was somewhere between delighted and terrified.

The half smile on his face, perhaps suppressing a full beam lest those watching at home thought him smug, fought the anxious look in his eyes.

The Fianna Fáil members – party apparatchiks claimed there were 2,500 – packed into the sweaty hall at the Citywest Hotel in Dublin had found their voice and their feet.

“Fianna Fáil is clear where it stands,” said Martin.

“Our country needs a new government.”

The members whooped and stomped their feet. The noise in the hall was striking, a display of passion unseen at Fianna Fáil Ard Fheiseanna in recent years.

Martin could be forgiven his delight. The party was responding to his pre-election battle cry and his post-Christmas strategy of kicking Enda Kenny repeatedly in the shins in an attempt to make the election a contest between the pair. Martin, long criticised for being a weak leader, had taken out the boxing gloves.

He could equally be forgiven his terror. Perhaps Enda Kenny held off a November election knowing that many people, counting their pennies after Christmas, have to sit in on Saturday evenings in January.

They have a choice between three weeks of political speechifying, kicking off with Fianna Fáil, followed by Fine Gael next weekend and ending with Labour at the end of the month.

The sight and sound of the mostly grey haired Fianna Fáil crowd in full partying mode is not the best accompaniment to a curry and a glass of wine, and certainly not the best advertisement for a modern Fianna Fáil that has learned the lessons of the past.

“This is an arrogant and out of touch government,” said Martin. “They want a coronation not an election. Well this is a republic and we don’t do coronations. The Irish people will decide.”

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A sing along to “Óró sé do bheatha abhaile” was followed by Dublin city councillor and Dublin South East candidate Jim O’Callaghan delivering the warm-up speech for Martin.

Labour has been “paddling its own canoe behind the Fine Gael ship” said O’Callaghan and would “capsize at the next election”, much like the Tánaiste experiencing the ankle-deep terrors of Kilkenny over the Christmas.

“There will be no auction politics,” said Martin, the leader of the party that almost invented the concept. “No uncosted promises.”

What few TDs were in the hotel bar afterwards welcomed the leader’s new pugilistic approach.

Canvassing

Timmy Dooley

Dublin Fingal’s Lorraine Clifford-Lee was almost as quick, but all were left trailing by Usain Dooley, whose blazer billowed behind him like a cape, as if he were a superhero rushing to a crime.

This was the big one. The pre-election ardfheis is like the World Cup in comparison to the mid-winter league drudgery of previous gatherings over the last five years.

Dooley timed his run to perfection.

Fianna Fáil, now on its marks and waiting for the go, will hope it can meet with similar success in the weeks ahead.

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