Fine Gael braced for wave of demos to target ard fheis
FINE Gael has been forced to organise a major security operation ahead of its ard fheis in Dublin.
The party hierarchy is worried that a "perfect storm" of issues is set to spark unprecedented protests at the National Convention Centre.
The meeting date - March 31 - coincides with the deadline for the latest instalment of €3.1bn for Anglo Irish Bank debts and is the last day for payment of the household charge.
The Herald has learned that gardai are concerned that they may be forced to close a section of the quays around Samuel Beckett Bridge as a result of protests.
A massive security operation will also be put in place inside the Convention Centre, which will include a sweeping of the building for bugs or devices and vetting of people entering the building.
Among those planning a demonstration outside the venue are members of the decamped Occupy Dame Street movement.
A well-placed Fine Gael source explained: "We are concerned that there could be some trouble but nobody is taking any chances. The Convention Centre has been booked for a very long time, so the fact that the date coincides with two such provocative issues is just bad luck."
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is looking forward to welcoming the largest ever gathering of Fine Gael TDs and senators to the two-day ard fheis.
But sources have also told the Herald that party bosses are keen to ensure that delegates don't adopt "a party atmosphere" in recognition of Fine Gael's first year in government.
"There was talk of marking the party's election triumph but after the 'gold star' fiasco a couple of weeks ago that will all have to be very low-key now," a source said.
Mr Kenny's keynote address takes place on Saturday, March 31.
As part of the new measures being put in place ahead of the meeting, party members are being warned to pre-register their attendance online for the first time.
Each Fine Gael branch is entitled to send five delegates to vote but many more are expected to attend what is being planned as a celebration. "Security considerations and pressures of space require everyone attending the ard fheis to be registered in advance," says a notice sent to party members.
The pre-registration rule is being strictly enforced with organisers even going so far as to advise non-internet users to "arrange for a friend to assist with registration".