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Fiach Kelly: Fianna Fail won't become Sinn Fein, but it may start to apologise less - and attack more


"WE'RE off the leash," said one Fianna Fail TD this morning after listening to Micheal Martin's brief press conference.

Mr Martin had just said his party will oppose the property tax - never mind that they first proposed one two years ago while lurching through their final months in power - and stood firmly by pensioners, now in the Coalition's crosshairs.

Some Fianna Fail TDs have been calling for a more aggressive approach in opposition - doing the things an opposition party usually does - rather than being overly apologetic.

This Dail term could see that change.

You could call it shameless opportunism, but certain Fianna Failers believe they would have political cover for a swift change.

The four-year plan of massive cuts and taxes unveiled in late 2010 as the IMF arrived in Ireland - the very document that committed Fianna Fail to a property tax - was based on growth rates and economic predictions that haven't held up.

In other words, things are a lot worse than expected, so they can ditch all those promises and get stuck into the Government, some in the party claim.

So, as the parliamentary party gathers today in Sutton, north Dublin, for its own pre-Dail think in, it's at somewhat of a crossroads.

The venue for this two-day think-in is in itself a hint as to where the party sees itself. Last year was a rather grim hotel beside The Square in Tallaght, as they still wore the sackcloth and ashes.

The Marine Hotel in Sutton is a nice-but-modest venue, not overly flashy but certainly not grim.

They'll never get back to the bar of the Ardilaun Hotel drink-in, but attitudes are starting to shift in Fianna Fail.

Mr Martin's attitude on property tax is a possible indication of the stronger opposition some of his TDs have been asked for.

Not that he seems intent on abandoning his previous approach entirely, again this morning promising responsible and constructive opposition.

But there may be a change in tone in this Dail term to more aggressive, more confrontational dealings with Government. Fianna Fail won't become Sinn Fein, but it may start to apologise less - and attack more.

It has already tasted blood in one sense. Whatever about Mr Martin's previous record in the Department of Health, he and his health spokesman Billy Kelleher successfully identified the weaknesses in James Reilly's budget for this year, and have hounded him over it ever since.

Dr Reilly has since become the weakest link in Cabinet and Fianna Fail will try to pressure him further with a Dail no-confidence motion this week - the first against one of the current Cabinet.

Largely pointless, since the Government will rally around Dr Reilly, but a sign, perhaps, of a more aggressive Fianna Fail.