Sunday 23 November 2014

Fianna Fail must deal with its past, including Reynolds

Published 25/08/2014 | 02:30

Mary McAleese
Mary McAleese

We stood outside the door of the Fianna Fail Party rooms on the fifth floor of Leinster House, waiting for the results of the selection convention for the party's candidate in the forthcoming Presidential election. A very small team of people with Albert Reynolds had set up temporary shop in one of our offices across the narrow corridor from the party rooms.

Outside on the hallway, the erudite and urbane advertising executives and PR men looked like an explosion in a Louis Copeland shop as they lined the walls and paced the walkways with intent, waiting for Albert to appear so that they could be the first to shake his hand in the hope he might enlist their services for the lucrative campaign.  

Quietly, a rather solemn figure emerged from the room where the counting was taking place. It was not Albert but his son. He held his composure, but he had the demeanour of a man who knew that this particular race was already lost. As news finally filtered out, it was at last officially confirmed that it was Mary McAleese who had been selected and not Albert.

I watched, horrified, as the pinstriped suit brigade sprinted down the corridor away from Albert to embrace the solitary figure of Martin McAleese, who waited quietly for his wife to exit the rooms. As the avalanche of executives faded into the distance, we shook our heads with stunned incredulity at such blatant bad manners. I commented to no one in particular how rudely these men were behaving. But Albert just smiled with that ever present twinkle and said "That's show business". A political pragmatist to the end, he knew the way the game worked in Fianna Fail.

The coverage in the media since Albert Reynolds passed away last week has been overwhelmingly positive: I am certain that he would have a broad smile on his face at some of the revisionism taking place. Praise and recognition is welcome, but it is a shame that he did not get to witness much of it while he was alive. This week, Fianna Fail should have learned a valuable lesson: in politics, the past is important. It is fitting for Albert Reynolds's family that they should be rewarded with this level of public affection and recognition for their father, the risk-taking peace maker. But it is a tragedy that Fianna Fail have done little to celebrate his achievements from within before he passed away.

In general, Fianna Fail are not very good at dealing with their past and in some respects who can blame them. At the moment, the past for Fianna Fail is a bit like the war for Basil Fawlty - you just don't mention it. In fearing everything to do with the past, they have become a political party who are without solid foundations as they attempt to carve out a new narrative for themselves. At times, they

seem like a completely new party but they are not a new party, they have a rich, diverse and chequered history. Their problem is that they simply cannot figure out how to deal with their immediate past and - because they cannot - have abandoned their entire record.

In the past, those who imagined that the party might die or be completely rejected by the electorate have been confounded by its strength and resilience, but where does its strength lie now? As the great and the good of Fianna Fail gather today, they are no longer a party with ambitions to shape a nation but are happy to be allowed simply to stay in the game. Albert Reynolds's departing words in politics in his last speech in Dail Eireann were, "I am what I am".

In remaining true to himself, and never denying his actions or his past, he has somehow finally garnered a respect that has proved much more enduring than the next day's newspapers. Fianna Fail are what they are, they cannot ignore the past and pretend it did not happen. If they are to ever revive themselves as a credible political organisation, it is time for them to create a narrative that deals with their historical legacies, good and bad.

Fianna Fail did not get everything right, but as the sad passing of Albert Reynolds has proved, they did not get everything wrong, either.

Mandy Johnston

Irish Independent

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