Senator Averil Power’s parting shots borne of frustration

The departure of the no-nonsense senator sees Fianna Fáil return to being stale, male, and pale, writes Political Correspondent Shaun Connolly

TYPICAL of her no-nonsense style Averil Power did not just leave Fianna Fáil with a parting shot, she blew the leadership apart with an Uzi submachine gun.

The tears Senator Power just about managed to fight back as she delivered her damning resignation from the party were bourne of four years of frustration at trying to change a party she now insists is incapable of modernisation.

Micheál Martin’s instant, bitter smash back at her, shows just how heavy her blows landed on him.

Branding her comments “nasty and vindicative” was a far cry from the beginning of Mr Martin’s leadership, when in the shadow of Fianna Fáil’s most crushing election defeat, Ms Power was wheeled out to stand next to him at almost every launch and photo opportunity as a sort of human political shield.

In an all-male Dáil party, the senator stood out and the message FF wanted to project was blunt: “Look, it’s a woman, and she’s young, and she’s urban — We can’t be that out of touch, can we?....”

Well, even Ms Power now believes: “Yes, you are that out of touch, and you always will be.”

As the years wore on, Ms Power drifted from the centre of the picture to its edges as she became ever more isolated within the parliamentary party, and disillusioned with it as a result.

She condemned her colleagues’ tepid support for marriage equality as “cowardice”, while the leadership moved to paint her as driven by political vanity and the threat Seán Haughey posed to her gaining the nomination in the Dublin Bay North seat.

Showing the quiet, but steely confidence that became her trademark, Ms Power, 36, lost little time in pointing out to the leadership that despite being a first-time candidate in the worst election backlash Fianna Fáil ever faced, she managed to gain the third-highest vote for the party in Dublin in 2011 and had little fear of her performance next time out wether Charlie Haughey’s son was on the ticket or not.

The angry exchange of verbal firepower with Mr Martin was in sharp contrast to her early days as senator when there was even chatter within the party that he intended to impose her as deputy leader in order to try and deal with FF’s “problem with women”.

This illicited a backlash from the old (male) guard and the party was so rife with petty jealousies and positioning, Mr Martin dare not risk appointing anyone as deputy leader as discipline within the ranks of TDs all but disappeared.

With barely a score of deputies to choose from, everybody got a job, so the joke at Leinster House was that FF did not really have a backbench, or a front bench, just a bench — one made up of drift wood from the great flood of voter anger after the economic crash.

Against such a background Ms Power could hardly fail to stand out.

A member of Fianna Fáil since joining the party at Trinity 15 years ago, Ms Power helped develop the DEIS programme of extra supporters for disadvantaged schools while working for the Education Department.

As a senator she championed rights for fellow adoptees, and moved to try and lift the threat of being fired that gay teachers still face even after the marriage equality result.

Despite working as a special adviser to arch media manipulator Mary Hanifan, and being married to the editor of the Irish Independent, Ms Power needed little help in getting a clear message across, as exemplified by the scorching denunciation of Mr Martin in her final political statement as a Fianna Fáiler.

Ironically, given her support for gay rights, her departure enshrines Fianna Fáil as an almost exclusively same-sex parliamentary party.

It was not just her commanding height that allowed Ms Power to tower over colleagues.

Without her presence the party returns to being stale, male and pale.



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