Fianna Fáil had hoped for a strong turnout at its first ard fheis since 2009 to show the party was capable of recovery following last year’s election hammering.
The queues on Saturday were not for the ard fheis but for the nearby Working Abroad Expo. The ard fheis took place in the Shelbourne Hall at one end of the RDS, the expo in the Simmonscourt Pavilion at the other end. The jarring coincidence was not lost on the thousands who queued throughout the day.
“They have a neck to be up there, 100 yards away, given the shite that they left behind them,” said one elderly man who did not wish to be named.
He was at the expo not because he wanted to emigrate, but because his 35-year-old son, a construction project manager who lost his job, had already done so.
The father mistakenly thought the expo was offering work in Ireland as well as overseas. “I just thought there’d be an opportunity for him to come back.”
A husband and wife from Galway were there with their young family. Although he has work in the construction industry, they both fear that could dry up.
“I was just saying it’s ironic how the Fianna Fáil ard fheis is across the street, and there’s I don’t know how many thousand people here looking to emigrate,” he said. “We have two children, one on the way, and we just want the best for them.”
On Saturday, the expo ran until 5pm, but such was the volume of people queuing outside the pavilion at 2.25pm that organisers had to close the gates leading into that section of the RDS to prevent any more joining the lines. The expo continued yesterday, but the gates had to shut even earlier.
At the ard fheis, as Micheál Martin apologised for Fianna Fáil’s mistakes in government, the party privately celebrated the thousands of members who had turned up. The thousands who queued at the expo, by stark contrast, represented no cause for celebration.