Thursday 27 October 2016

Second Battle of Blackrock may be bloodier than first

Mary Hanafin
Mary Hanafin

"You'll never win anything with kids." The BBC soccer pundit Alan Hansen made this confident prediction back in 1995 after Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson had decided to try out some new players.

Unfortunately for Hansen, Ferguson's "kids" included future superstars such as David Beckham who ended up leading United to a league and cup-winning double.

Micheal Martin clearly sees himself as the Alex Ferguson of Irish politics. With a general election fast approaching, the Fianna Fail leader would love to drop his party's discredited old guard and give their jerseys to fresh young talent instead.

Unfortunately one of those veterans has refused to hang up her boots and the row could leave Micheal in danger of losing his entire dressing room.


In other words, the first Battle of Blackrock is about to spawn a sequel.

Shortly before last May's local elections, a major row blew up in Fianna Fail HQ over whether former Education Minister Mary Hanafin or Ogra president Kate Feeney should be allowed to contest the south Dublin ward.

Hanafin had been added to the ticket by the party's head office, but then later refused several pleas from Martin to withdraw and basically left her leader exposed as a bumbling incompetent.

In the end, Blackrock's voters spared Micheal's blushes. Both women won council seats, although Hanafin could claim to be the moral victor with a couple of hundred extra votes.

Now they both want a shot at being Fianna Fail's general election candidate in Dun Laoghaire - and everyone seems to agree that this time there can be only one victor.

The contrast is stark. Once seen as a potential Taoiseach, the 55-year-old Hanafin lost her Dail seat in 2011. Feeney is a tax accountant barely half her rival's age.

Just to complicate things even further, two more local councillors under 30 have entered the race. They are Cormac Devlin and Jennifer Cuffe.

With the convention likely to be held next month, only one thing is certain at this stage - four into one will not go.

The early skirmishes are already turning nasty. According to the leaked minutes of a recent branch meeting, Hanafin complained that Fianna Fail "stands for nothing, has no vision and agrees with the Government on everything".

She insists this is a distortion of her words and says that instead the party must show voters what it does stand for - which from Micheal Martin's point of view is not exactly a great compliment either.

On one level, Martin's strategy makes perfect sense. The last Fianna Fail government was such a disaster that the people ended up booting it out in record numbers. Bringing back ministers from Brian Cowen's reign of error would only suggest that the Soldiers of Destiny have learned nothing from their mistakes.

However, the leader's logic also contains one glaring hole. Since Martin also sat at cabinet while Ireland's economic sovereignty was sold down the river, surely he should substitute himself for a fresh pair of legs?


He might point out that there is no realistic alternative. Sadly that seems to go for the party as a whole.

In the run-up to Fianna Fail's ard fheis this weekend, Martin has been unveiling new policies such as childcare tax credits and a sugar tax.

As the ongoing spat in Dun Laoghaire shows, however, Fianna Fail cannot credibly talk about the future until it has dealt with the past.

That problem will be underlined soon, with Brian Cowen due to appear in front of the Oireachtas banking inquiry and the late Brian Lenihan's relatives reportedly looking for a right to address the inquiry should they feel this necessary.

By giving Fianna Fail a youthful facelift, Micheal Martin hopes to do for his party what Alex Ferguson did for Manchester United.

If the second Battle of Blackrock fails to go his way, however, he may look like the new David Moyes instead - weak, ineffective and destined for an early bath.

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