COLETTE BROWNE: Ghosts of Fianna Fáil past return to give Martin a fright ahead of ard fheis

AS Micheál Martin prepares this weekend for his first ard fheis as Fianna Fáil leader, the atmosphere has been soured as ghosts of the party’s shambolic past resurrect themselves to rattle their chains and pour scorn on his performance.

One such ghoul is former Cork TD, Noel O’Flynn, for whom the passage of time has had an amnesiac effect.

In an interview last week, an immodest O’Flynn was adamant that Cork needed his brand of political representation, and, suggesting he was willing to ‘selflessly’ give up the comfort of retirement and bravely go once more into the breach, said he missed being “the voice of Cork”.

Strangely, as far as I can recall, O’Flynn was more commonly referred to as “the mouth,” because he was unable to keep it closed whenever a tense situation demanded silence, and the moniker was entirely disparaging.

One such occasion was back in 2002, when, a couple of days after a racist attack left a Chinese student dead, O’Flynn decided to launch a broadside against asylum seekers, denigrating them as “spongers, freeloaders, wasters and con-men”. Ironically, his intemperate outburst has provided historians with an apt description for most of his former parliamentary-party colleagues.

Having now decided to recast himself as a heroic man of the people, a misty-eyed O’Flynn said his unparalleled political nous was cut prematurely short when he agreed to take one for the team and retire from public life in advance of the last election.

O’Flynn’s retirement was not entirely altruistic, and, actually, he only stepped down, thereby facilitating the election of party rival, Billy Kelleher, in Cork North Central, because O’Flynn claimed Martin promised to support his son Kenneth’s Seanad bid. Unfortunately, the former TD’s dreams of a “Flynnesty” were cruelly dashed when his son failed to win a seat and he has now assumed the role of bitter crank, loudly accusing Martin of reneging on the deal.

While some of us would naively assume that an elected office, with its attendant generous pay and perks, is not suitable for use as a sordid bargaining chip, O’Flynn has no compunction about vilifying Martin for failing to deliver on his promise to rubber-stamp his son’s graduation to national politics.

So, while the former Cork TD was one of the first to publicly back Martin in his leadership bid, he now mysteriously claims “he is part of the problem”, and, in keeping with the party’s reputation for self-effacement and humbleness, has compared the party’s trials to those of Moses and his search for the promised land — or, in this case, the government benches.

“Micheál Martin has been there for the whole 14 years while Fianna Fáil were in government — he is part of the problem. It reminds me of the 40 years that Moses spent in the desert, the reason being all those that committed sins had to die off before they would find the promised land,” he said.

Truly, the gall of the man knows no bounds, and the fact that the deal was made tells you all you need to know about the so-called reform agenda of the Fianna Fáil party. Fellow party stalwart, and rose-tinted spectacle wearer, Mary O’Rourke also gave an interview last week in which she denounced the current crop of TDs as “not very bright or intelligent” and said that while Brian Cowen was, obviously, “very smart and very intelligent … he wouldn’t smile for anyone and that is what ruined us”.

Now, the new coalition government is not overrun with Mensa members, that much is obvious, but at least the country didn’t cede its economic sovereignty on their watch — a calamity that O’Rourke seems to ascribe to the fact that the party’s disgraced former leader didn’t say cheese enough. In between bouts of promoting her new reality show on TG4, former tourism minister Mary Hanafin also found time last week to publicly ponder where it had all gone wrong for the party — and, more particularly, for herself.

While she expressed her bafflement at the bankrupt state of the country, one thing she was assured of was if she had the chance to again vote for the banking guarantee — you know, the one that wrote a blank cheque for the entire banking system and beggared the country — she would do it all again proving that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

In fact, her only regret, and the thing she was most troubled by, was giving a less than complimentary interview about Brian Cowen last year, because, although she didn’t allude to this, her lack of loyalty cost her the requisite grassroots support for a vice-presidency position within the party.

Elsewhere, and apparently bored of spending his considerable lump-sum payment and €128,000 annual pension, John ‘the Bull’ O’Donoghue also chose this week to remind us all about how much we need him.

Last seen losing it at an election count, where he informed his slack-jawed audience that it was “ironic” he was conceding defeat in a “magnificent sports complex that I helped to build”, conjuring up images of the notoriously red-faced TD up a scaffold plastering walls, ‘the Bull’ is now up to his old tricks and positioning himself for a triumphant return to politics.

RENOWNED for his extravagant spending as a member of the last, benighted government, when he thought nothing of using limousines to take him between terminals at Heathrow, or the government jet to ribbon-cutting constituency functions, O’Donoghue said many would be surprised to learn that he lives quite frugally. Of course, now that he’s spending his own money and not the State’s, his determination to live the simple life is, perhaps, not so surprising. Lambasting the upstarts who have replaced him in his Kerry-South constituency, O’Donoghue suggested “their crowning moment was to attend the opening of two [community] hospitals which I built” and baldly told voters, “you’ve tried the rest, bring back the best”.

Four years after the economy imploded, with unemployment stubbornly stuck over 14%, Mr O’Donoghue still doesn’t get it. He didn’t build those community facilities in Kerry; it was the taxpayers of the country who provided the money that was disproportionately siphoned off to Kerry-South while he was minister for arts, sports and tourism, and, unfortunately for his political ambitions, the era of auction politics, when ministers could use departmental budgets to put a down-payment on an election, is long over — the country can’t afford it and the people will no longer stand for it.

With the Fianna Fáil party hovering at 16% support in opinion polls, those criticising Martin’s performance as leader should, instead, be counting their blessings that the party’s share of the vote has stabilised and isn’t even lower, because it will be a cold day in hell before many from my generation — those young people now disproportionately suffering unemployment, forced to emigrate or saddled with huge mortgages — will ever vote for a Fianna Fáil candidate.



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