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It's time to rise to the challenge, lads, and launch a counterattack

How long do we have to listen to this mantra that anything to do with Fianna Fail is toxic?

Fianna Fail was creased in the last election, not to put too fine a tooth on it. it is, nevertheless a legitimate political party, representing 16 per cent of the electorate, with a grassroots membership (depleted) that spreads the length and breadth of the country. It is time the ordinary members and legitimately elected TDs were shown common courtesy and respect.

The notion that anybody who had any association with Fianna Fail in the past is in some way toxic is outrageous.

Sean Gallagher's membership of Fianna Fail is being thrown at him as if it was a horrendous crime to be a rank and file member of a political party. To listen to some media commentators, you would be forgiven for thinking he sat at the Cabinet table and had some influence in the decision-making process. Does anybody in their right mind really think that Sean Gallagher, or any other rank and file member, could have phoned Brian Cowen and told him what to do?

Let's face it, Brian Cowen didn't let his own ministers know what he was doing let alone take account of objection or comments from minor party figures such as Gallagher.

This is the man who purported to be a great party man, but who robbed his colleagues of credibility by sending them out to make eejits of themselves by denying EU/IMF intervention. The man who refused to communicate with the people of Ireland, treating them with contempt. This is the man who ignored the rank and file membership of the party he was supposed to love so much.

If anybody was toxic, it was Brian Cowen. There is no doubt that the seeds of the economic meltdown were sown while he was Minister for Finance and Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach, but the total meltdown in the polls was the result of Cowen's appalling political blunders, and his arrogant treatment of his coalition partners, the general public and the ordinary members of Fianna Fail.

The party would have suffered substantial losses, but meltdown was a direct result of his mismanagement. To think that Gallagher is in some way responsible for that is nuts.

I'm not trying to diminish Gallagher's valuable contribution in the organisation, but to say that all members of a political party are on intimate terms with members of the Cabinet, or are in a position to influence major national decisions, is off the wall.

It's time the notion that Fianna Fail and anything to do with it being toxic was well and truly put to bed. It mightn't suit Fianna Fail party rivals to acknowledge that the 'toxic' individuals are long gone, but, no matter what other political parties or cynical or gloating members of the media choose to promote, Fianna Fail is the main opposition party and should be treated with the respect that position is entitled to in a democracy.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is fond of shouting about the defects of the previous administration, blaming all current unpalatable decisions on it. But he and his Government can abdicate their responsibility and culpability in current decision making for only so long.

The Taoiseach's lack of statesmanship -- with his flippant, sarcastic and dismissive responses to Micheal Martin, and his apparent deferential treatment of Gerry Adams -- has aided and abetted the marketing of Fianna Fail as irrelevant and toxic.

Enda Kenny is the longest-serving TD in the Dail. He's reputed to have a huge respect for protocol. He's the Taoiseach of the country, and is supposed to treat parliamentary procedures with dignity. As father of the Dail, he knows better. He chooses to behave disrespectfully.

It might be great fun for Enda to indulge in petty-minded quips, but this does nothing to promote democracy. And the by-product of his behaviour is that, effectively, he has placed Sinn Fein in the position of being perceived as the main opposition party. His behaviour might have short-term benefit for his own party, but only very short term.

Fianna Fail was always a bit like Manchester United: if you weren't with it, you were against it. Fianna Fail may be in the second division but it's still in there, and there's nothing wrong with an individual becoming involved with a political party -- any political party.

Freedom to partake in legitimate political activity without being vilified or victimised is the essence of democracy. Shame on anyone who attempts to diminish the worth of a citizen of this country because they participated in the democratic process. To do so is the first step towards a totalitarian state.

It's time Fianna Fail squared up to this particular challenge. Come on, lads, surely you're not going to buckle under bullyboy tactics and personal taunts? Seven months is enough time to lick your wounds. An aggressive counterattack is well and truly needed.

Yes, you lost a substantial number of seats. And deserved to. Yes, you took a barrage of abuse at the doors. But you lads were still elected and are expected to do your job as the opposition.

I know Kenny sometimes evades answering questions in the Dail, necessitating that the Freedom of Information Act is put to use. I know every time a member of the parliamentary party opens their mouth they're shouted down by members of the Government, but since when did the Soldiers of Destiny allow themselves to be defeated by bullyboy tactics?

Martin needs to up his game. It's time he mobilised the talent on the benches and members in the trenches for the counterattack.

It is an honour and a privilege to be elected to serve your country. As leader of Fianna Fail, as leader of the opposition, Martin should square up to the attackers and meet the challenge head on.

The gloves are off; there is no room for Mr Nice Guy.

Sunday Independent