independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Fiach Kelly: An impressive turnaround – but party can't be complacent

LAST year, Fianna Fail was on its knees. The party faced its first Christmas since the 2011 general election plagued by doubt.

An aggressive Sinn Fein was dominating the opposition benches in the Dail, and the destroyed former "natural party of government" had yet to carve out its own distinct identity.

Micheal Martin was widely considered to be a caretaker leader, serving time until after the local elections in 2014, when it was assumed he would hand over to a younger TD. The party had sat out the presidential election, an acknowledgement that it was still electorally toxic.

This Christmas, while still fragile, Fianna Fail and its leader are in a much better place.

The party has risen above the 20pc mark in opinion polls, now sitting behind Fine Gael as the second most popular party.

One poll had Mr Martin as the most popular party leader and, even more astonishingly, had Fianna Fail itself as the most popular party in Dublin. Some feat, when you consider Fianna Fail has not one TD in the capital.

The Fianna Fail frontbench has moulded itself into a more effective opposition.

A number of key factors are responsible for the turnaround. One is Mr Martin himself, who used the platform of the fiscal treaty campaign to showcase the knowledge he gleaned in various senior ministerial portfolios.

But when he stood alongside Gerry Adams, whose performances continue to be poor, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who keeps running from meaningful debate, Mr Martin was the star performer of the campaign.

The other major factor in Fianna Fail's resurgence is Health Minister James Reilly. Mr Martin, having served in the Department of Health, spotted the flaws in Dr Reilly's budgeting and Fianna Fail consistently attacked it.

In what hasn't been a vintage year for political performances, Mr Martin could credibly stake a claim as politician of the year.

The problem for him now is to keep it up. The electorate still hasn't forgotten who brought the bailout into our lives – and Fianna Fail may not have Dr Reilly to kick around much longer.

Irish Independent

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