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Sunday 22 October 2017

Fianna Fail is now drinking in the last chance saloon

Michael Martin
Michael Martin

"Bloody demoralising." This is how Fianna Fail TD Sean O Fearghail summed up his party's position after a fortnight of dire opinion polls and mutterings about a leadership heave against Micheal Martin.

In fact, O Fearghail's diagnosis might even be on the optimistic side - because to quote an old U2 song, the Soldiers of Destiny have got stuck in a moment that they can't get out of.

Nobody knows this better than David McGuinness, a Fianna Fail councillor in Blanchardstown and two-time Dail by-election candidate. The outspoken 28-year-old gave Micheal Martin's team a real tongue-lashing on Thursday, accusing them of being disconnected from voters and lacking any sense of direction.

morale

According to him, many ordinary members feel the same but only he "has the balls" to say it - which is why the brash young man may cut loose and run as an independent in next year's general election.

Since McGuinness lost the Fianna Fail Dublin West nomination at a bad-tempered convention last month, Martin might be tempted to dismiss his comments as sour grapes. That would be a mistake.

Instead, the Corkman must accept that party morale really is at an all-time low. It could soon provoke a full-scale leadership crisis unless he does something to cheer up the troops.

Fianna Fail have had a terrible start to 2015, mainly because Martin has sat back and allowed other parties to set the agenda. Two recent opinion polls show them slipping back to 17pc support, exactly what they got in the election bloodbath of 2011.

At a frontbench meeting earlier this month, the frustrated young TD Robert Troy reportedly "had a real cut off" the leader and warned him that April's Ard Fheis cannot afford to be the usual stage-managed affair.

Martin should also be worried by the launch of Renua Ireland. Lucinda Creighton's new party has centre-right policies that could prove attractive to former Fianna Fail voters as well.

There is also a real possibility that Creighton will have enough TDs to prop up Enda Kenny after the 2016 election, leaving Micheal and his colleagues out in the cold again.

Fianna Fail's position in Dublin remains "fairly brutal", to use Bertie Ahern's old complaint. As David McGuinness explained this week, a support level of 10pc and a turnout of 50pc means that canvassers have to knock on 20 doors to find a single supporter.

In other words, working for Fianna Fail in the capital is a pretty thankless task these days. No wonder some activists are deciding they have better things to do with their lives.

Why is the party failing to make any impact? The most obvious answer is that it has locked itself in a straitjacket.

Fianna Fail cannot criticise the Government's broad economic policy, because it is the same blueprint that Brian Cowen agreed with our Troika bailout masters back in 2010.

Obviously, there are still many voters who will never forgive Fianna Fail for destroying the Celtic Tiger in such spectacular fashion. An even bigger problem, however, is the fact that the party seem to have no new ideas about tax, education or healthcare.

challenger

Squeezed by Fine Gael on the right and Sinn Fein on the left, they have become irrelevant to most great national debates - bearing out Oscar Wilde's dictum that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

One glimmer of hope is that in last May's local elections, Fianna Fail did much better than the opinion polls had predicted. This, of course, suggests that some people are ashamed to publicly admit they support the party - which is surely a bit of a problem in itself.

Micheal Martin's saving grace is best summed up by former minister Willie O'Dea: "When I look around the Fianna Fail table I don't see the Messiah, and I don't see him in the mirror either." The lack of a credible challenger means that Micheal will probably limp on for at least a bit longer.

That is indeed "bloody demoralising", not just for Fianna Fail but for anyone who would like a fresh new alternative to Enda Kenny in the Taoiseach's office this time next year.

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