Thursday 18 January 2018

Calls for Bertie Ahern to be given 'distinguished service award' and welcomed back to Fianna Fáil

Bertie Ahern Picture: Frank McGrath
Bertie Ahern Picture: Frank McGrath
Bertie Aherne
Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
John Downing

John Downing

Just when Micheál Martin thought he had moved on to a new era - back comes Bertie Ahern with reminders of those good old/bad old Fianna Fáil days and all its legacies.

As 4,000 Fianna Fáil delegates gather at the RDS in Dublin tonight for the party's Árd Fheis, the leadership faces a full-on call to give Mr Ahern a distinguished service award, reinforced with a renewed demand to allow him to rejoin the party.

Let's recall that, in the wake of the Mahon Tribunal findings in March 2012, Mr Martin was in the process of moving his old boss's expulsion when Mr Ahern felt obliged to resign from the organisation he led for 14 years. Now Mr Ahern's old Cumann O'Donovan Rossa in Drumcondra has written to party HQ pointing to his long and distinguished service to Fianna Fáil, which dates back to the 1965 General Election and includes leading the party into government on three successive occasions. With a certain sting in the tail it also reminds the leader that "Bertie Ahern and Micheál Martin served in cabinet together for 10 years".

6 NEWS II GM Martin 1.jpg
Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Yet, Mr Martin faces into a very challenging party conference with a considerable track record as leader for the past six years. He led Fianna Fáil into the hell that was the electoral meltdown of February 2016, slowly out of the political wasteland, to now find himself as a potential Taoiseach after the next general election.

The two-day event is the first since its "recovery election" in February 2016 and comes days after a Budget which has Fianna Fáil's prints all over it. Mr Martin is keen to take a markedly different stance from that of Fine Gael, whose minority coalition his party is keeping in business for now at least.

While Leo Varadkar is clearly aiming for the middle-class vote, Fianna Fáil is trying to be a "voter catch-all" and the conference theme is 'An Ireland for All'.

Opinion polls last month gave the party members a jolt as they showed Fine Gael had opened up a significant lead. But another poll last week showed the "big two" were near enough tied with Fine Gael on 31pc and Fianna Fáil on 29pc. That comes to a new Taoiseach also benefiting from the summer Dáil recess.

Expect lively debate tonight when members are urged to utterly rule out coalition with Sinn Féin. And success here would copperfasten Mr Martin's stance, periodically challenged by some TDs.

Tomorrow there will be clashing motions on the abortion issue. The London cumann motion supports a woman's right to choose while Kildare North want to reaffirm the rights of the unborn child.

There is surely a tongue-in-cheek motion from Dunmanway in Cork South-West which urges a cut in the €160 per year television licence fee "to encourage more people to pay".

Irish Independent

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