Johnny Fallon: The Ard Fheis showed FF still has the numbers ... now it has to get active again
THE Fianna Fail Ard Fheis certainly brought out a range of emotions in people over the weekend. There were positives and negatives for FF and their opponents alike. The first thing that was striking about it was the attendance. With 4,500 attendees this was a political conference that will take quite a lot for any of the other parties to rival this year. Given that it came from a party on 17pc of the vote and 19 Dail seats anyone might be surprised. Indeed a time-travelling delegate from 1987 would have been forgiven on first glance for assuming that nothing had changed for FF when casting a cursory glance around the RDS.
They would notice some differences as they looked a little deeper however. The speeches were certainly different and there was a distinct lack of TD’s lining up for photographs with their constituency organisations for the local papers. The reaction to Bertie Ahern was generally polite but still mixed at best. Brian Cowen got a standing ovation, but it remains part of the FF gene that is sympathetic to him, they may feel he got things wrong but they still think his heart was always in the right place and that he got a rough time. That’s quite different to how they are assessing Bertie. Whether or not anyone outside of the party would agree with that is another matter.
The attendance may have been large, but it proved only one thing; that FF still has an organisation, but proof is still needed that FF possesses the capacity internally to know how to use such an organisation. Like an army that was routed FF still has troops scattered around the country awaiting a call and details of how to regroup, but if not moved upon quickly any army can simply begin to disperse. A Sinn Feiner suggested to me that they had to learn how to become ‘activists’ again.