Sunday 23 October 2016

Colette Browne: Fianna Fail are trying to depict Averil Power as an egotistical drama queen

Published 26/05/2015 | 11:31

Micheal Martin TD, Leader of Fianna F‡il Averil Power, Spokesperson on Political Reform, during a press conference on Political Reform at Fianna Fail's Election HQ, Dublin
Micheal Martin TD, Leader of Fianna F‡il Averil Power, Spokesperson on Political Reform, during a press conference on Political Reform at Fianna Fail's Election HQ, Dublin

Fianna Fáil already has a lack of female politicians but its brutal treatment of former party Senator Averil Power following her resignation means that it is likely to have a continued lack of female supporters for the foreseeable future.

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Following her shock resignation from the party yesterday, the rag-tag remnants of Fianna Fáil closed ranks and launched a co-ordinated attack depicting her as an egocentric drama queen with a surfeit of ambition and a lack of political class.

Ms Power prefaced her swansong from the party she has been a member of for 15 years by saying she had no personal animosity towards party leader Mr Martin – but she had serious issues with his style of leadership.

She said he was a leader without followers, that senior members of the front bench are undermining him at every turn and prioritising their own personal political careers over the needs of the party.

That the party took positions on national issues and then resiled from them locally, that it was craven and cowardly in its flip-flopping and lacks credible policies.

The retribution was swift. And vicious. Mr Martin appeared on RTE’s News at One programme and depicted Ms Power’s complaints as the self-serving accusations of a grasping political hack.

She was under pressure in her Dublin Bay North constituency, afraid of a little competition from party stalwart Sean Haughey, and had now gone crying to the media with a contrived sob story in a naked effort to pre-empt inevitable defeat at the selection convention, was the mantra.

But, Ms Power is not saying anything that other Fianna Fáil TDs have not been saying for months, so why did the lads in the parliamentary party don their steel-capped boots en masse and give her such an almighty kicking?

For months, Eamon O Cuiv and John McGuinness have been sniping, quite publicly, about the direction of the party, the lack of leadership and the fact that it doesn’t seem to stand for anything anymore.

A couple of TDs have told Mr McGuinness to keep his gob shut but Mr Martin has not seen fit to reproach either TD publicly for their persistent griping, instead magnanimously stating that he does not operate a dictatorial “una duce una voce” type leadership.

So, he’s the type of leader who welcomes criticism – unless it’s coming from a departing high-profile female parliamentary party member, an endangered species when it comes to the Fianna Fáil party.

Ms Power’s language may have been blunt, and her comments caustic, but what she said was not personal, it was professional, and her accusations are backed up by evidence.

Fianna Fáil did not campaign in rural areas on the marriage equality referendum and a number of different TDs have confirmed that Ms Power was derided when she had the temerity to suggest the party stand by its public utterances and campaign on the issue during the Carlow Kilkenny by-election, at a recent parliamentary party meeting.

The attitude seems to have been that this silly woman was too naïve to understand that political parties don’t drag up contentious social issues, that they ostensibly support, in the teeth of a by-election on the off chance the candidate loses some votes.

Forget about conviction politics, it was quickly back to cute-hoor politics – say whatever you think is popular in order to get you over the line and worry about the consequences later.

Ms Power has been a member of Fianna Fáil since she was a student in Trinity College and it’s clear that she didn’t take the decision to stand down lightly. It is also evident that she has been struggling and unhappy for months.

Perhaps she was a square peg in a round hole, simply not the right fit for the party – but that should make Fianna Fáil worry, because she is exactly the type of person they should be trying to attract into politics.

Young, passionate, hard working and with the courage of her convictions and willing to go into battle for the party on numerous previous occasions – not least in 2011 when it was the most reviled political organisation in the country.

While it’s understandable that Mr Martin and his colleagues would not be particularly pleased to have yet another public airing of the party’s dirty laundry, the manner in which they took to the airwaves to vociferously dismiss her concerns and depict her as vindictive and self-aggrandising has been stunning.

Where was all of this angst and vitriol when Cllr David McGuinness recently departed? Or when Cllr Patrick McKee defected to Renua? Or, is the level of the anger simply a function of Ms Power’s higher profile  - they have to try harder to do her down because she needs to be dragged down from a greater height.

Regrettably, for the supposed Fianna Fáil loyalists, the yarn they have spun to discredit Ms Power is not credible. A number of TDs have backed Mr Martin to the hilt on the record, but many of them are rather less fawning in their praise when the tape recorders are turned off.

In fact, many of them have raised the same concerns that Ms Power has spoken about – a party that seems to be making it up as it goes along, trying to depict a liberal image in Dublin, where it is desperately flailing around for support, while also determined to keep its conservative rural base at all costs.

The party line is also undermined by the resignation today of grassroots Fianna Fáil activist Ken Curtin, a high profile member of the Yes Equality campaign, who has supported Ms Power’s version of events.

One thing is for sure, many people, particularly female voters, will look at the way the party has acted in the wake of Ms Power leaving the fold and think long and hard before supporting an organisation that could turn so easily on one of its own.

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