Mick Mullohand

Fianna Fail will survive. But to what degree? That is a question that still hangs very much in the air after its Ard Fheis in Dublin last weekend.

Fianna Fail will survive. But to what degree? That is a question that still hangs very much in the air after its Ard Fheis in Dublin last weekend.

The gathering was well organised, and the speech of leader Micheal Martin looked well as a television spectacle. But the content of what he had to say was woefully 

Fianna Fail cannot risk falling into the traditional 
role of Opposition: oppose all Government policy, be populist, and hope everything comes right at the next election.

Mr Martin, after all, has promised a new kind of politics. He must do more to deliver it.

Predictions that Fianna Fail would fade away after its hammering in the general election were wide of the mark.

Unlike small parties with a narrow base, Fianna Fail has been a national movement, with units of the organisation, however diminished, right across the country.

The election hammering related to its contribution to the economic destruction of the country. Even hardened supporters could not bear to vote for the Soldiers of Destiny.

The party is on the way back. And its performance has been moderately impressive in the polls.

But it is coming back from a very low base. And a succession of polls has shown that about one-third of the electorate remains undecided about how it would vote.

So Fianna Fail’s recovery is very much predicated on what is, right now, an apparently soft vote.

In fairness, there is a recognition among its parliamentary party and many at grass roots level that nothing can be taken for granted in terms of a significant long-term recovery.

The state of the party has been summed up by Professor Tim Bale, a British political academic, who bluntly told his Fianna Fail hosts last year that the party’s brand is not simply tarnished, it is utterly trashed.

“It is toxic,’’ he told delegates, as Mr Martin apologised for mistakes made by the party in government.

This view, from an objective observer, must be ringing in the ears of those in Fianna Fail who are listening.

And the evidence suggests that many of them are The overwhelming manner in which delegates supported a motion, barring anybody who stood down at the last election running next time, suggested a good deal of anger amongst the rank and file against those who ran party and country into the ground and then disappeared with a handsome pension.

Indeed, there was a good welcome for the delegate who suggested that those with gilt-edged pensions should consider making a donation to the St Vincent de Paul.

The anger about the party’s past is as real among many rank and file members as it is among the broader electorate.

Motions passed on abortion will inevitably influence the party’s response to the legislation on the X case.

There is resistance among some to including a provision on suicide. But how reflective is this of the organisation throughout the country, with polls suggesting that there is a strong measure of support for legislation, not legalising abortion, but protecting the life of a pregnant woman in all circumstances?

It is one of the challenges facing Mr Martin and his shrunken parliamentary party. He disappointed on Saturday night with his keynote address.

He said everything. And nothing. It was politics of old. Hammer the Government and say you would do things 

That might have worked in the past. But it is doubtful if it will work now for a battered and bruised electorate dealing with the ravages of The 
Economic War caused by Fianna Fail-led governments.

Mr Martin expressed his opposition to key initiatives by this Govenrment: the property tax, the sale of State assets, the Home Repossession Bill and Garda station closures.

He has made it clear, however, time and again, that he is in favour of making the savings the Government has targeted.

He has no option, mind you. Ireland remains in the merciless grip of the Troika.

While opposing everything, he has failed to come up with the kind of authentic plan which would achieve the same results and not require what the Government is doing.

He was having his cake and eating it.