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Fiach Kelly: Martin revisits history in looking to future

'We helped keep the fascism of the 1930s away from achieving influence here'

IF you closed your eyes and walked into the ballroom in the Newgrange Hotel in Navan last night, you would have thought you were taking a trip back to elections past.

The squeezebox and guitar at the back of the room played 'I'll Tell Me Ma' and 'My Brother Sylvest'.

Damien Sheridan -- father of Meath inter-county footballer Joe, also in attendance last night -- played the accordion and was accompanied on guitar by his sister Evelyn Honan.

The pair of "true Fianna Failers" entertained the 400 or so strong crowd before leader Micheal Martin -- there to deliver a speech billed as an appeal to the grassroots -- made his entrance.

"I thought there were no Fianna Fail people left around," one member joked to another as they surveyed the packed room.

"This is old FF," thundered local TD Johnny Brady in his warm-up speech.

"When I started out in 1974, we stood on orange boxes and apple boxes and we're back to the same."

It was typical breast-beating on the eve of an election, only this time on the eve of an election where FF is going to take a beating unseen in its history.

Mr Martin's speech harked back to the party's history -- to Lemass, de Valera, Frank Aiken, Lynch, Donogh O'Malley.

But there was no space for Bertie Ahern or Brian Cowen. Mr Martin came to try and bury all that, to try and "renew Fianna Fail", to announce the arrival of "Today's Fianna Fail". But people don't forget so easily.

Since he took over as leader, Mr Martin has talked about getting the party back to its roots. And he hit the traditional FF buttons -- Irish language, Irish unity, rural Ireland -- last night to mobilise his rank and file.

"I appeal to you to join me in renewing Fianna Fail," was a refrain repeated several times throughout the speech.

"We are the party that helped Ireland keep the fascism of the 1930s away from achieving any influence in this country -- bringing in a Constitution which entrenched democratic values and tolerance."

He also tried to put space between what he hopes will be his Fianna Fail -- a centrist, one-nation party -- and Fine Gael on its right and Labour on its left.

But despite the rhetoric of the party history, the speech, which largely failed to ignite the hall, reverted to attack-dog type.

FG and Labour were involved in auction politics too, he said, and they made mistakes. True, but they weren't in government.

"These parties are part of the old politics that tells people what they want to hear."

This from the leader of a party that specialised in 'showtime' elections, of electoral slam dunks based on tax cuts and spending hikes.

"The fundamental difference between Enda Kenny and me is this: he is focused on the 25th of February, I am focused on the future of our country."

This from the leader of a party that specialised in focusing on nothing but the next election.

He has no choice but to focus on the elections after this -- he has to rebuild the party he professed to love last night.

Irish Independent