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FF must learn it doesn't have a constitutional right to existence

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin TD. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin TD. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin TD. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

For Fianna Fail, the party conference season has resembled those famous visits by the religious missionaries of the 1950s where the humble villagers recited their modest sins and were consigned to hellfire for a week.

Ironically, on one level Fianna Fail may actually have been grateful for the attention, as the party's current status provides it with a cruel reminder of the old sporting truth that sometimes you are better off to lose honestly rather than win lucky.

After the local elections of 2014, Micheal Martin was a relieved man. The political rooks had been gathering, waiting to peck at his eyes.

Fianna Fail became the first party to win an election by backing away from the electorate. When it came to a manifesto or rationale, Fianna Fail did not have one. Instead, its main strength was that Enda couldn't stop shooting the Coalition in the foot.

The problem, alas, with that strategy, was that at some time, even Enda had to stop pulling the trigger.

This was bad news for a party that still appears to believe that it has an entitlement to survive, irrespective of its acts.

But while the lads are at ease with their current harmless status, they would do well to note that the margins in Irish politics are very fine.

For FF, the corridor of uncertainty it resides in is its current 19pc polling average.

At 19pc, it won't pull up any trees, but it will, at least, get back with a couple of new chickens for ballast.

But should an intensity of competition from Labour and Sinn Fein accelerate and the party starts to drop rather than increase, fewer TDs might be the result.

As we puzzle about the state of FF, we often forget that, at the end of the day, politics is a simple game.

If you are to be successful, you have to answer a number of basic questions. These might be narrowed down to: Why are you here, and what do you propose to do for me?

Of course, credibility and a track record that doesn't include bankrupting the country also helps.

The real problem FF faces is that it remains fatally unclear where it stands on the not-so-minor issue of: Why are you here?.

Our elite claim that for Fianna Fail to recover, it needs to acquire policies and relevance. This, however, with respect, is horse manure.

Instead, if we take the woes Fine Gael is suffering over Universal Health Insurance as an example, policies in Irish politics often cause more trouble than they are worth.

The problem being experienced by FF is the far more existential one of the apparent pointlessness of its presence in the Dail. This is all the more indefensible because it is not as though there was an absence of opportunities to secure political traction.

One might have thought that after 2011 the phenomenon of Fianna Fail nostalgia would take a decade to return.

However, after two years of the drab puritanism of the Coalition, when it came to irresponsibility, Paddy was ready for road again.

In the past, as 1997 clearly displayed, the old-style FF coalition of the damned and the ruthless were maestros in the art of closing out the political deal, if one was available.

When it comes to the current crew, however, the sense is that they are still gun-shy in the wake of their spectacular electoral defeat. FF has been very good at the apologising and the cultivation of an appearance of respectability.

The problem is that while the politics of the eternal apology is all well and good, it is the politics of absence.

Like Labour, FF is a party without a narrative beyond that of 'sorry'.

This failure means that FF has been incapable of either realising or taking advantage of the growing view of the coping classes that this Government, for some mysterious reason, is against the people.

The struggling coping class, who find themselves left without any disposable income the day after they receive their pay cheques, are the new Irish Moby Dick.

And while they are, for the moment, partying with Sinn Fein and the Independents, in the long run such historical creatures as the country girls and part-time employed breakfast-roll man are always available for a bit of fun with old-style Fianna Fail.

The problem, however, Micheal, is that they have to be asked first.

Having once been kings, FF see themselves as being political wild geese in exile.

The problem though, is that the tide is no longer on the ebb. Instead, cranes are in the sky and the fine hint of arriving wealth is hanging in the air. If FF is to take advantage of this it needs, however, to at least put its political cap out on the pavement.

Sunday Independent