A week of political think-ins heralds start of autumn’s political term

Party fests have occasionally provided iconic political moments, and unwelcome publicity

The September think-ins, now a fixture on the political calendar in the week before the Dáil returns from its summer break, get under way on Monday when the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party gathers at Horse and Jockey in Co Tipperary for a two-day meeting.

The other parties follow throughout the week, with the Social Democrats, People Before Profit and Sinn Féin content with one-day events in Dublin, while Labour (in Maynooth), the Greens (Tramore) and Fine Gael (Limerick) are going for an overnight away-day format.

The Dáil returns from the summer recess on Wednesday week, September 20th, after a two-month break. The Cabinet resumed its weekly meetings last week.

The parliamentary party think-ins have traditionally marked the beginning of the autumn political term, providing the parties with media exposure to set out their priorities for the months ahead. In addition to the media element, they are part social occasion, part policy discussion and part political workshop.


In the past, they have occasionally provided iconic political moments. In 2004 Bertie Ahern sought to use the Fianna Fáil think-in at Inchydoney in west Cork to rebrand his government as more “caring” after the departure of Charlie McCreevy as minister for finance and his replacement by Brian Cowen.

Six years later, Cowen was taoiseach as Ireland slipped towards bankruptcy. He stayed up late socialising at the Ardilaun Hotel in Galway before a Morning Ireland interview and sounded, in the words of an incendiary tweet by Simon Coveney, “halfway between drunk and hungover and totally disinterested”. Cowen’s interview – and Coveney’s tweet – sparked a huge political storm, and probably marked the beginning of the end of his government. Ten weeks later, the country entered the EU-IMF bailout; three months after that, the 2011 general election saw Fianna Fáil lose more than 50 seats.

Partly as a result of the Galway controversy, the parties have become a lot more cautious about the think-ins in recent years, with party officials straining to avoid any embarrassments or unwelcome publicity. Nonetheless, sometimes the think-ins become a focus for dissent among TDs, or criticism of the party leadership. Two years ago, Micheál Martin confronted critics within his own party at the event in the Slieve Russell Hotel in Cavan in a clear-the-air session that showed his leadership was not – as many had presumed – under any immediate threat.

This year, Martin’s TDs will be looking for signals about his future intentions. Despite repeated denials from him, some TDs believe he may depart next summer in the direction of Brussels as Ireland’s next European commissioner.

Actual agenda items at the Fianna Fáil meeting on Monday include education, transport, climate and preparations for the local and European elections. On Tuesday the members will hear an update on the Housing for All programme by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and have a discussion on the future of media and broadcasting with a number of invited guests.

On Thursday the Social Democrats will meet in Dublin for their event, while the Labour Party begins a two-day think-in in Maynooth. The following day sees the Green Party meeting in Tramore, Co Waterford, while Fine Gael is in Limerick for Friday and Saturday, where the party will discuss efforts to protect the “squeezed middle” from increases in the cost of living, a party official said. Fine Gael councillors are also invited to the second day of the party’s event in Limerick.

Sinn Féin will welcome party leader Mary Lou McDonald back to its one-day event in Dublin on Friday. Ms McDonald underwent a medical operation at the Rotunda Hospital in late June, following which she had a period of recuperation. The party confirmed last week that she would return for the think-in.

People Before Profit TDs will also gather for an event before the Dáil returns, though details are not yet finalised.