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Fianna Fail's challenge

Although nominations don't officially close for another week, yesterday's decision by the Fianna Fail parliamentary party to neither nominate an official party candidate nor support an independent candidate effectively restricts the field to the five candidates who have already secured nominations.

Fianna Fail was damned if it did and damned if it didn't.

With most voters still not having forgiven its mismanagement of the economy during the almost 14 years it spent in office up to last March, nominating an official Fianna Fail candidate would have risked heaping further electoral humiliation on the party.

Unfortunately, by declining to field a candidate Fianna Fail left the way clear for Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness.

While opting to sit out the presidential election was almost certainly the least bad option for Fianna Fail, what was until recently the dominant Irish political party is now in dire straits.

Next month's presidential election will be the first national election campaign it has not contested since its formation 85 years ago. Scorned by the electorate, its finances shot and its once fabled organisation in tatters, Fianna Fail's very existence is now in doubt.

While Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin seems to have some comprehension of the gravity of the situation facing the party, others, including it would appear his deputy Eamon O Cuiv, have still to adjust themselves to the grim new reality.

Incredible as it may seem, there is still a rump of opinion within Fianna Fail that believes that last February's general election rout was merely a bad day at the office and that somehow all will be forgiven by the time the voters come to the next general election.

It won't.

Any electoral rehabilitation of Fianna Fail will be a long, drawn-out process extending over several electoral cycles.

Even with a fair wind at its back, it is difficult to see Fianna Fail ever regaining its former pre-eminence.

As a student of Irish history, Mr Martin will need no reminding that, when measured as a share of the vote, the electoral drubbing suffered by his party last February wasn't as bad as that inflicted on the Irish Parliamentary Party in 1918 -- it was even worse. Fianna Fail was only saved from complete extinction by the PR system, which it had previously tried to abolish on two occasions.

With the final line-up of candidates now clear, attention will quickly switch from Fianna Fail's internal squabbles to the presidential election campaign.

Over the next five weeks the candidates' every utterance and -- especially in the case of Mr McGuinness -- their past records, will be subjected to intense scrutiny.

This gives Mr Martin and his colleagues the opportunity to concentrate on rebuilding Fianna Fail out of the public glare.

They would be well-advised to discard any previous delusions of grandeur and start getting their hands dirty on the humdrum tasks of party organisation, reconstructing the local branch network, putting candidates in place for the 2014 local elections, drawing up relevant new policies, paying off its mountainous debts and, last but not least, never, ever, missing an opportunity to apologise to the Irish people for their previous transgressions and begging forgiveness.

If the party fails to do so then, while this presidential election might be the first national election not to have been contested by Fianna Fail, it certainly won't be the last.

Irish Independent