Friday 24 November 2017

FF leader told: 'Bring PJ Mara in to win 2016'

Martin's TDs see mastermind of Ahern's success as key to victory

PJ Mara
PJ Mara

John Drennan and Ronald Quinlan

Moves are underway at senior levels within Fianna Fail to secure the return of PJ Mara to direct preparations for the upcoming general election.

The Sunday Independent has learned that discussions in relation to the potential involvement of the legendary spin doctor and electoral mastermind have been underway for several weeks now.

And while it's understood that Mr Mara has yet to receive a direct request for his assistance, senior figures within Fianna Fail have already made it clear to Micheal Martin that the man who helped Bertie Ahern secure three successive terms as Taoiseach will be needed if the party is to have a fighting chance come election day.

It is further understood that the matter of Mr Mara's potential involvement was raised formally in the course of a recent meeting in Leinster House of Fianna Fail's so-called 'Futures'. The group which is drawn from the membership of the parliamentary party and the wider Fianna Fail organisation meets on a regular basis to discuss strategy.

"Bringing PJ on board is being talked about at the highest levels and moves are being made. It has been made clear to Micheal Martin that we need to have PJ Mara on board," a source familiar with the detail of the ongoing discussions told the Sunday Independent.

Asked what level of involvement would be envisaged for Mr Mara were he to be available and willing to assist, the source added: "We are talking about a national role but Dublin would have to be the priority.

"Dublin is where we have to get a footprint. If there was an election now, Fianna Fail would only be guaranteed three seats, maybe six on a really good day. On those numbers, we would still be a rural party with no real urban impetus. Let's put it this way; we need PJ Mara in the city."

Fine Gael's loss in controversial circumstances of its own highly-accomplished director of elections, Frank Flannery would appear to have increased the appetite significantly within Fianna Fail for Mr Mara's involvement.

Commenting on this, another well-placed source said: "Fine Gael's difficulty could be Fianna Fail's opportunity. Enda Kenny might think he can get by without Flannery if the economy continues to turn in the right direction for them. If we can get PJ Mara in as our director of elections, he will have a real fight on his hands."

Highlighting the advantage Fianna Fail would have with the experience and authority Mr Mara would bring to the table as the party's director of elections, the source said: "People think Fianna Fail is a big party again after the local elections; we aren't but we have huge potential. Remember, we lost 19 or 20 seats at the last general election by a margin of just 1pc. It's all there to play for if we play it right."

But whatever challenges Fianna Fail will face at the election, securing PJ Mara's assistance could prove to be a challenge in it itself.

While Mr Mara was unavailable for comment, an informed source noted that the role of director of elections would be an "18 hours a day, seven days a week" job, and not necessarily compatible with his current job or hectic schedule.

The source added: "There would be the task of building an identity for Fianna Fail; how would they stand out from the herd? There is no doubt Mara would be convinced he could still work his old magic. He would believe he is capable of making Fianna Fail a bigger party than Fine Gael again. But he would also be far more aware than most within the party of the scale of that task.

"Everyone knows PJ has the capacity to do the job and to do it better than anyone, but he'd still have to start from scratch if he took it on. The question only he can answer is 'does he want it?' They [Fianna Fail] will have to make a compelling case if they want to get him on board."

Sunday Independent

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