Monday 26 September 2016

Low-key Soldiers of Destiny go incognito at RDS for annual pow-wow

Published 25/04/2015 | 02:30

Michael Martin
Michael Martin

Outside the RDS the billboards flagging events in the complex are sporting stylish posters this weekend. Beside a white map of Ireland surrounded by green is the logo '76ú' and no other clue to what it represents.

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Any vaguely curious citizen strolling by might surmise that some sort of agri-conference or tourism show was in full swing.

But no - they're signalling that the 76th Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis is under way. They are also signalling that Fianna Fáil is still leery of its welcome, and therefore chose to erect a sort of enigmatic gang sign - an insider symbol that only the paid-up subalterns of the Soldiers of Destiny would recognise.

Nonetheless, the mood among the officer class at the venue yesterday evening was resolutely defiant in a never-write-off-the-party way. And the escalating hoohah involving Siteserv, the IBRC and the Department of Finance has proved a grand fragrant red herring to distract attention from the various internal disputes that have rumbled on in recent weeks, including sporadic sniping at Micheal Martin's leadership.

The leader happily took media questions on the controversy, peppering his replies with digs at the Government, dubbing the proposed inquiry as "a fundamental error of political judgement".

But inevitably the questions turned to his own position - if his party fail to escape from the electoral doldrums in the general election could this be his last Árd Fheis as leader?

"Certainly not!" he exclaimed. And what's more, he refused to rule out the possibility that Fianna Fáil could get their mitts back on the levers of power after the next election. "I think anything is possible…" he mused.

It was a low-key start to the two-day gathering which is expected to be attended by 3,000 delegates. Inside the main hall, various stands were being busily erected as the bar was being stocked. And in true Gaybo fashion there was something for everyone in the audience - one could buy both a pint of porter and a Wined Up candle scented with Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

There were faces from the past, present and future - the Drumcondra Mafia of Chris Wall, Paddy Reilly were promoting an O'Donovan Rossa commemoration, Bertie's brother Maurice Ahern was chatting to Brian's brother Barry Cowen, and delegate Lorna Reid was canvassing with her six-week old baby son, Thomas.

Micheál gave the opening address, entering the hall with his wife Mary, who was making a rare public appearance.

He accentuated the nuggets of positivity the party has managed to mine. "Four years ago most commentators predicted we were finished - something they often forget. But we are again the largest party in local government and whenever Enda Kenny decides to go to the country we will be ready for him," he declared to enthusiastic but restrained applause.

No yahoos or roars. Like the careful posters outside, there is no need to frighten the skittish voting horses.

Irish Independent

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