| 15°C Dublin

Lise Hand: Micheal employs Bobby Ewing Manoeuvre to reboot his troops

At the Fianna Fail think-in yesterday, you could've cut the suspense with, well, a blunt butter-knife. Sure as eggs is eggs, the whole shebang was doomed to languish under the grim shadow of the Garglegate fiasco which exploded precisely a year ago.

The stark comparisons were there for all to see: last September the almost 100-strong party of government were cosily ensconced in the swanky Ardilaun Hotel in Galway, safe behind a ring of steel of gardai.

This year, the 30-odd survivors of March's electoral tsunami were in the Maldron Hotel in Tallaght. There was a police van parked close by, but nobody was storming the doors.

So just how was party leader Micheal Martin going to officially kick off his Herculean task of reinventing the toxic brand in danger of becoming known as Fukushima Fail? Well, it turns out that Micheal has indeed formulated a stratagem to help his party tunnel its way out of the national dog-house.

It's called the Bobby Ewing Manoeuvre. He's decided to create the illusion that the past six years of profligacy, reckless spending and zero regulation never happened. That the reign of error under Brian Cowen never happened. That the fawning lionisation of property developers never happened. And that Garglegate definitely never, ever, took place.

Instead, the people of Ireland woke up today to find Fianna Fail was still a caring, sharing grassroots party.

For despite the fact the think-in is in Dublin 24, it was actually recreating the spirit of the Inchydoney think-in of 2004, when Taoiseach Bertie strolled the Cork sand in shirt-sleeves, invited champion of the poor Fr Sean Healy to address the troops, and firmly took up his new position on the left-wing.

For among the speakers yesterday were Sr Consilio Fitzgerald from Cuan Mhuire Addiction Services and John Mark McCafferty from St Vincent de Paul.

Micheal Martin is no fool. He knows it'll take a heck of a lot more than simply swapping an uncommunicative, pint-drinking leader for one who presents a friendly face and mainlines green tea to rebrand.

And so a nifty bit of re-imagining was required. "In terms of the programme for today and tomorrow . . . there is a very clear reaching out to people who are suffering as a result of the economic collapse. We want to hear about their experiences and we want to mould policies based on their experiences," said Micheal, who was sporting his best Mother Teresa face.

And furthermore, he explained, the guest-list of speakers had been inspired by an article written by one of the unemployed. "What really sparked me was the comment that no one in the political establishment was really listening or talking to the unemployed and then I said we'll take the initiative and invite people who have had this experience to our conference."

Of course, this wasn't really a road to Damascus conversion for the party. Fianna Fail were like this all along. It was, in fact "the manifestation of a party from its foundation which was always there to protect the working families and working people and to ensure equality of opportunity in life and that people have a decent chance in life irrespective of background or circumstances", insisted Micheal.

"I think the programme over the next two days does reflect that esprit de corps that's always been in Fianna Fail."

Indeed. Pass the soap there, Micheal. And don't forget to turn off the immersion when you're done.

Irish Independent