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Fianna Fail closer to 'one member, one vote' system

FIANNA Fail is to scrap the branch network it has used to select election candidates since the foundation of the party.

In a significant departure, the party is looking to move to a 'one member, one vote' (OMOV) system in the wake of its devastating general election defeat, the Irish Independent has learnt.

Under the existing system, every local branch, called a cumann and usually based around a parish, sent forward three delegates to conventions to decide who would go on FF constituency election tickets.

This meant cumainn with as few as 10 members would have the same say as others with 10 or 20 times as many.

As local branches declined in recent years, party bosses were worried TDs and others were keeping dying cumainn open to increase their sway in constituencies -- and to ensure control over who got on election tickets.

Under the new system, each party member in the constituency would have one vote at selection conventions, removing the influence of cumainn delegates and constituency bosses.

The cumainn were traditionally grassroots power bases but have seen huge declines in membership in recent years. They have fallen in strength in Dublin particularly, and recent reports into the state of the FF organisation in the capital and other main centres recommended moving to OMOV in the cities.

But party leader Micheal Martin, who has accepted the recommendations, wants OMOV used right across the country and does not believe in having different rules for different areas.

However, he may come up against resistance from party activists before the proposal is passed by an ard fheis, the final rubber stamp, later this year.

The report on the state of the FF organisation in Dublin, written by former junior minister Chris Flood, said the cumann no longer made "a real contribution to the work of the party".

Although Mr Martin wants to retain the cumann as the basic unit for local FF organisations, he wants to extend candidate selection powers to all members.

One source said it would be a natural move to introduce OMOV in rural areas and the initial proposal for Dublin and the cities was aimed at "getting it over the line" there first.

The party's national executive is expected to ratify Mr Martin's approach next week.

The move is similar to one taken by Fine Gael in recent years.

The Labour Party also has the same system for choosing election candidates.

"It would be a major rule change; it hasn't been finalised for the whole of the country," a party source said.

"It will be looked at nationally. It's only been Dublin and the other five cities that have been looked at so far."

Another source said there would be a lot more resistance to the move in rural areas.