Thursday 21 November 2019

Cons: dancing with yesterday's men in desperate bid to save party's soul

THE council of elders or the masters of disaster? Micheal Martin's decision to seek the advice of former TDs, ministers and senators on the future of the party comes with risk and downsides.

The obvious -- and the largest disadvantage -- is perception, both inside the party and outside. Fine Gael and Labour may be implementing, give or take a nip or cut there, the same policies as Fianna Fail and the Greens in their dying days, with a public getting increasingly tired of austerity.

But there is no figure in the current Government who attracts the same ire as some members of the cabinets of Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern.

Mention the names of Noel Dempsey and Dermot Ahern, and it all comes back. E-voting, massive golden handshakes and pension payouts, and the IMF knock-knocking on the door while the two ministers denied there was anyone there at all.

Fianna Fail is trying to rebuild itself with an image of new people with new ideas, far removed from the catastrophic period which started with Bertie at the tribunal and culminated with a slew of ministers retiring rather than fighting last year's election, leaving Mr Cowen with half a cabinet.

Mr Martin, Willie O'Dea and Eamon O Cuiv are the only remnants of the senior ministerial team which oversaw the massive economic crash.

The party is pinning its hopes on younger bloods like Niall Collins, Billy Kelleher, Dara Calleary and Michael McGrath in Dail, as well as Averil Power, Darragh O'Brien and Thomas Byrne in the Seanad. The public is encouraged to see them as the face of Fianna Fail, and forget the old gang.

There is also a lingering bitterness within Fianna Fail to those who took their pensions and ran -- or, in this case, didn't -- when the general election was called.

Mr Byrne believes he would have kept his Meath East seat were it not for controversy over payoffs, especially since Mr Dempsey and former junior minister Mary Wallace, both from his county, were retiring with hefty pensions, not to mention Dermot Ahern in neighbouring Louth.

Ms Wallace, while never attaining senior ministerial rank, gets an annual pension of around €75,000.

But Mr Martin invited all former office holders to take part in the summer meetings and even long-retired figures like David Andrews and Gerry Collins were there.

He could have been ruthless and told Mr Dempsey and others not to turn up, but that would have created more problems.

One current frontbencher said the spectre of the wildly unpopular -- among some TDs at least -- Noel Dempsey was the stuff of "nightmares, nightmares".

But the same person added: "Look, beggars can't be choosers."

Irish Independent

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