Apologies, gays and émigrés dominated Fianna Fáil’s 73rd ard fheis.
With tiered seating on all four sides it looked like Micheál Martin was giving his keynote address in a boxing ring, which was fitting as he was really fighting against the weight of history. The once dominant Soldiers of Destiny have now become prisoners of the past.
Huge banners dangled from the ceilings outside proclaiming the achievements of every decade since the 1920s, with such landmarks as the peace process illuminating the 2000s. But tellingly, there was no reference to the 2010s — because for Fianna Fáil, history stopped in November 2010 when economic sovereignty was surrendered to the IMF/EU/ECB troika in the most chaotic fashion.
There was a standing ovation for the catch-all, yet unspecific, apology and admission of mistakes by Mr Martin for the last government, but delegates also rose to their feet to loudly cheer Brian Cowen.
Sorry still seems to be the hardest word for some people, while shame is an alien concept to others. Cue Bertie bounding through the hall on Saturday — and while Fianna Fáil moved to embrace all things gay, Mr Martin hoped that admiration for the former taoiseach would be the love that dare not speak its name on this occasion.
Save for a few mutterings from bystanders, Ahern was received warmly, announcing he would not be commenting on Mr Martin’s pointed dig at him. While Bertie-love was officially frowned upon, moderniser Martin made a strident pitch for the pink punter as republicanism was reborn under the proud banner of liberty, fraternity, and, er, homosexuality.
The youth wing packed the hall for the debates on gay marriage and adoption equality and both measures passed, causing one delegate to despair: “Oh dear, now even Ógra’s gone gay.”
Presumably the graves of Dev and his comely maidens were not just spinning, but on permanent turbo-charged rotation.
As the Fianna Fáil Dáil party of 19 not so merry men has been openly same sex since the election wipe-out ended female representation in the chamber, we took great juvenile delight in approaching the most macho Soldier of Destiny deputies feigning ignorance, and asking: “So, is gay marriage compulsory in Fianna Fáil now — will you have to take a husband?” To which the most intriguingly answer from a TD, who shall remain nameless, was: “I’ll marry him, but I won’t sleep with him.”
It is the kind of most excellent compromise one would expect from the people who brought us “an Irish solution to an Irish problem” and benchmarking.
The upshot is that Fine Gael is now isolated as the only Dáil party opposed to marriage equality.
But perhaps it was going a tad too far if Martin was trying to appeal to the gay vote by teasing journalists that he would be doing “the full monty” during his conference speech — a threat to which one wag responded: “But you’ll keep your hat on?”
All in all, it was a strange affair as the boom and bust ex-cabinet colleagues suddenly appeared from nowhere like ghosts from another era: “Oh, there’s Noel Dempsey smiling and nodding — just like he did when he denied the IMF was intervening right as economic sovereignty was being surrendered. And isn’t that Mary Coughlan, the former Minister for Mass Unemployment who presided over the Dell Hell and so many other industrial disasters?”
Fianna Fáil always feeds on itself and, as Martin is a keen student of history, he will be all too aware that just as Bertie denounced Charlie and as Bertie has now been denounced by Micheál, the next leader of Fianna Fáil — the one who will probably take it back into shared power in reduced circumstances — will, in turn, have to denounce Martin and Cowen for their disastrous decisions in government in order to finally escape from the past the party is still frozen in.
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