As they gather for their first ard fheis in three years, there is a clear difference in sentiment between Fianna Fáil’s grassroots and the party’s TDs.
The grassroots is grateful for the opportunity to meet, also buoyed by the largest Fianna Fáil budget in years, which is a powerful appeal to the party’s low- to middle-income support base.
You see a competent Taoiseach, who takes no nonsense from the opposition, with a rising and increasingly vocal Michael McGrath, who will soon become Treasury Secretary.
Full members are also expecting a rebound in the polls as they enjoy a moment of glee at traditional opponents Fine Gael’s recent slip.
But ard fhei’s applause for the top table is one thing, even if Mr McGrath received a lot of applause from the Parliament party at his Budget Night session.
TDs are mostly looking beyond this week’s good news to what is likely to happen in December and where the organization needs to go in the next general election – not to mention its positioning in the aftermath.
A Irish Independent Yesterday’s poll of TDs shows that the leader’s future is far from clear as there are internal disagreements over whether Micheál Martin should stay or leave in December.
Self-proclaimed realists view the many of their peers who support the leader as “willfully blind” to broader trends and what they see as the need for the party to reinvent itself.
Some see Dublin’s Jim O’Callaghan as still a viable challenger to McGrath as the new broom that will sweep clean. Others already see impending trouble when the ministers are formed in two and a half months.
The reorganization could prove onerous, either because it is too extensive or too limited, as Cabinet and junior ministers must agree before Mr Martin decides on his own future, leaving any successor unable to set up his own team for the to select the next election test.
Mr. Martin will serve as President for 12 years in the new year, having been elected in January 2011 following Brian Cowen’s resignation. With the Dáil on the Christmas break it seems a logical timing for the follow up holdings if Mr Martin is to want to leave.
“Everyone knows that every leader, no matter how successful, has a shelf life,” said one TD. Others say – sometimes with veiled meaning – that the party leader himself knows when it’s time to go.
Another said “there will be a competition by the end of the year if there is enough dissent on the recast.”
But this Musical Chairs event is scheduled for December 15, almost certainly too late in the year for a Christmas boost.
Most expect that there are a number of contenders for every leadership position; and if there should not be a vacancy, that a guerrilla action will start promptly in 2023.
With Mr Martin giving up his role as head of government and expecting to switch to a foreign policy role, much of his political capital will have eroded, it has been pointed out.
Many cite the need for the next man or woman to have a reasonable amount of time to solidify their position and make their mark on the party in terms of senior staff and new policies.
As for the next election, almost two-thirds of opinion-makers do not see Mr Martin’s face appearing on the placards, despite current protests that he will take the lead.
“As a Tánaiste in the backseat, it would obviously have been a case of ‘there it was, done,'” said one. “We need to freshen up to have a chance against Sinn Féin. Voters last time showed they wanted change.”
What happens after an election also highlights differences between TDs, although the evidence available is that the grassroots is entirely confident of forming a coalition with Sinn Féin.
Many TDs remain opposed. “Legacy,” one murmured with a distinct Northern Irish overtone. Others are concerned about the concept of the coalition itself, even though it has been 45 years since Fianna Fáil won an overall majority.
“The coalition has cost us the opportunities we’ve been in,” said another. “There’s no reason to believe it won’t cost us again. Last time we did worse than we expected because we saw that we had backed Fine Gael with confidence and supplies and we didn’t finish it soon enough.
“We cannot serve as a support for anyone after the next election. I would like to go into the opposition and regroup from there. I don’t work my ass off to make another party look good. I want to save my own.
“In the ard fheis everyone will hug and pat on the back. People can be misled in the short term because the underlying issues are all still there.”
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/theyll-be-clapping-each-other-on-the-back-at-the-fianna-fail-ard-fheis-but-the-problems-are-still-there-42031391.html “At Fianna Fáil ard fheis they will pat each other on the back but the problems are still there”