ALISON O'CONNOR: Fianna Fáil to engage in ‘masterly inactivity’ until general election

THEY’RE playing it down, of course, but Fianna Fáilers are rather gleeful at present given their rather robust state of political health. All things being relative.

There they are quietly sitting in the middle of all the Government despair and the speculation over which independent will pair up with which, and what sort of dolly mixture of groupings we will end up with going into the next general election.

It is a wonderful political study in the art of “masterly inactivity” and they must be pinching themselves at their luck given that they were virtually written off after the 2011 general election .

Remember the 2012 party Ard Fheis when Tim Bale, one of the UK’s leading political scientists, told the party members they had to recognise the extent to which the party was despised, and how people had no interest in what it had to say or how it was faring.

He told them how Fianna Fáil had to do all possible to signal that it had changed and stressed that a comeback could take two or three parliamentary terms.

Yet here we are with Micheál Martin saying he is preparing to be taoiseach, and much of the speculation centering on what combination, including Fianna Fáil, might work to make up a coalition.

Speaking to them, party members say privately they would consider somewhere in the late thirties in terms of seat numbers after the general election as a really good day out. They will have at least 40 new candidates.

We tend to forget that, under their new rules, just like Labour, the party would have to hold a special party meeting — with one member one vote — to make any decision on a potential coalition.

This would certainly be a seismic shift for Fianna Fáil.

The party is in good financial shape having raised a very respectable €950,000 in its national draw before Christmas.

It will be taking on five extra staff shortly to cover media and research in preparation for the upcoming election.

It’s looking as if fears about members of the “old guard” coming back to haunt the next election are largely unfounded.

The thinking seems to be that Mary Hanafin may well get selected in Dún Laoghaire, Sean Haughey might turn up at convention, but that people like former minister Mary Coughlan or John O’Donoghue won’t be running.

A candidacy by O’Donoghue would have been particularly dreaded and it is felt he may have been enjoying the idea of raising the hare of his candidacy in Kerry in order to irk the leadership. A run by Pat the Cope Gallagher in Donegal is not being ruled out either.

Ìn the 2011 general election, Fianna Fáil’s vote fell by 23.89% to 14.95% and while it would be pie in the sky to attempt to predict what that figure will be next time it is highly unlikely to be less than that, and probably significantly more.

There have been changes within the party, some very important organisational ones, but really I think it would be a stretch to say too much has changed in Fianna Fáil thinking, certainly not among some of the Dail deputies and senators, or that it had learned lessons from it’s spectacular balls-up of the economy.

The party has produced a raft of alternative legislation and has far more policies than we would imagine apparently, if only the deputies would read them and communicate them to the public. The more anonymous ones would do well to look at the example of frontbenchers Barry Cowen, Niall Collins, and Billy Kelliher.

If ever there were a case of a party biding its time and circumstances changing in its favour this is it. They just find themselves really well placed as the Government struggles with massive unpopularity and the voter rage.

Now Fine Gael and Labour will clearly have been buoyed by the results of the first Red C poll for 2015 which showed Fine Gael up three to 24% and Labour up two to 8%. As it happens Fianna Fáil were down one at 18%. But truth be told they won’t be that unhappy with that sort of result. Sinn Féin was down one at 21%.

On party leader performance, the poll, carried out for Paddy Power, also showed that Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton have the highest leadership ratings with 35% and 33% respectively. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is on 31% and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams is on 27%.

Reading these results it should be borne in mind that the Government have started the year with a “kitchen sink” approach in terms of trying to get the public back on side with everything from childcare to the universal social charge.

Micheál Martin did bring himself to public attention on Tuesday to tell us that he’s calculated the Government has made promises on tax cuts and increased spending which would cost taxpayers €3.4bn.

The last few months of Martin’s leadership have been remarkable for the fact that not one of his Oireachtas colleagues have called for him to stand down or indicated they might do better as leader themselves.

The performance in the local elections gave a much needed boost but the subsequent loss in the Roscommon/South Leitrim byelection would previously have been the perfect opportunity to give him a few kicks over the airwaves.

But they seem to have realised that just because a journalist calls and asks for a quote it’s not always wise to give one, or being in the newspapers is not always a good thing.

There is now an acceptance he will be leading Fianna Fáil into the general election — as Willie O’Dea so eloquently put it after the by election in relation to other possible leaders — “I look around the table, in my mind’s eye, and I don’t see the messiah, and when I look in the mirror I don’t see him either.”

I heard two different views from FF-ers on Micheál saying he was in training to be the next taoiseach — one said they cringed, while the other said it would have been madness for him not show ambition.

“If you put forward a policy platform you have to make it seem as if you believe it has a chance of being implemented. You have to step into the frame.”

In the week we read that a Fine Gael senior minister said the Government is “done apologising” for the mistakes of 2014 it will be interesting to hear how Fianna Fáil pitches themselves ahead of the general election.

I reckon one of the things we might be hearing in the next few months is the “totality” of what Fianna Fáil has done for the country over decades, while doing the usual sort of semi acknowledgement of their role in the bust.

But as they’ve seen in recent times just sitting back and watching it all happen around them is no bad policy.

One of the things we might be hearing in the next few months is the “totality” of what Fianna Fáil has done for the country


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