A lot done... a lot more still to do

AT this time of year, that image of bothered pupils returning to school is always a common and humorous sight. Such was the look of some Fianna Fáil TDs and senators with bags slumped over their shoulders as they arrived for the party’s parliamentary think-in in Waterford city yesterday.

It’s a case of more work to be done hammering away at the coalition government. Plotting a route forward on the opposition benches is the central focus to this two-day meeting of Fianna Fáil TDs and senators (no MEPs attended).

A previous Fianna Fáil election slogan (2002) sums up the situation: A lot done, more to do.

The pre-Dáil planning sessions centre around the upcoming budget, political reform and strategies for the local elections, as well as the vote on abolishing the Seanad. Many Fianna Fáil selection conventions (where candidates are chosen to run) will also take place this week.

Options for budget strategies were also outlined to TDs and senators — behind closed doors — by economists yesterday.

Forming new policies to boost the domestic economy and job creation will be areas of focus for the party over the coming months, two issues that will strongly appeal to voters.

The party’s jobs spokes- man Dara Calleary said the atmosphere of the think-in was relaxed but engaged.

“The referendum is a focus, but we’re obviously focusing [most] on the budget. The referendum is a power grab, plain and simple. This government has gotten rid of town councils and replaced the board of Údarás na Gaeltachta with direct political appointees and now wants to get rid of the Seanad.

“We’ve got to spend the next two weeks persuading people that a no vote is a mandate for reform.”

Privately, senior Fianna Fáil party figures say dealing with the public is a lot easier than two years ago, when it was decimated at the polls. The anger has dissipated, say TDs. One said: “It’s much easier to be a Fianna Fáil TD on the ground than two or three years ago. You’re knocking on doors and people are dealing with you. There’s still a lot of shite, but less.”

Donegal TD and education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said: “People [TDs] have had six or seven weeks in their constituencies and are fresh coming back to it [the Dáil]. People are looking to be constructive in advance of the budget.”

If 23% of support, as predicted in one weekend poll, were to transfer to the ballot box, Fianna Fáil could take over 40 seats at the next general election. But a coalition partner or support from other TDs would be needed to add up the numbers for a government.

The party will also have to get through the beginning stages of a banking inquiry even before the local elections next year, which will remind disgruntled voters why they kicked the party out of power in the first place.

A recent backlash by the public to comments, which were far from sensational, by former Taoiseach Brian Cowen about the financial crash are a sign of what Fianna Fáil would likely face in any investigation into the last administration’s handling of the economy. Such a backlash at the polls would certainly put brakes on the party’s recovery.

The opposition party’s continued focus on issues, such as mortgage arrears, policing in rural communities and education will help foster support in the build- up to the local elections.

The government’s mid- term blues and another austerity budget, may also be a chance for Fianna Fáil to steal back some votes.

The two-day think-in will give Fianna Fáil parliamentary party members all this and more to contemplate, as they prepare to take their Dáil seats again this week. A lot done, more to do.

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