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Sorry is only a start for Fianna Fail

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin's apology for his party's past mistakes, while welcome, merely represents a first step in what will be a long process of rehabilitation for Fianna Fail.

The apology came during the leader's speech at this weekend's Fianna Fail Ard Fheis, the first such gathering since what had long been Ireland's largest political party lost three-quarters of its seats in the February 2011 general election.

There was one particularly ironic coincidence that illustrated perfectly Fianna Fail's achievement, if that's the correct word, during its 14 years in office of taking what had been the fastest-growing economy in Europe and turning it into a complete basket case.

As the Fianna Fail delegates met, just down the road from the Ard Fheis, people were being turned away from the Working Abroad Expo as the queues seeking to emigrate in search of employment overseas grew to dangerous lengths.

Fianna Fail clearly has a lot to be sorry for.

This was reflected in the drubbing inflicted by voters on the party in last year's general election when, if former Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk -- who was automatically returned -- is excluded, the party succeeded in electing a mere 19 TDs to the 31st Dail and its share of the first preference vote, a mere 17.45pc, was lower than the 21pc achieved by the old Irish Parliamentary Party in the December 1918 general election that condemned it to extinction.

Now that Fianna Fail has apologised for its previous errors, it must prepare for the future. Which, of course, begs the question: does it have a future? Is the Fianna Fail brand so toxic as to be beyond recovery?

The success of the Fianna Fail "gene poll" candidate Sean Gallagher in securing 28.5pc of the first preference vote in last October's presidential election would seem to indicate that, despite the catastrophe of February 2011, it might not be a good idea to write the party's obituary just yet.

There still exists a significant proportion of voters -- and there were thousands of faithful at the Ard Fheis -- who are prepared to cast their ballots for a cleaned-up Fianna Fail.

Some of the other measures taken by the party this weekend -- the introduction of one-member, one-vote in the selection of election candidates and reforms that could eventually give rank-and-file members a vote in future leadership contests -- indicate that Mr Martin has learned some lessons from the events of the past five years.

His refusal to follow the example of his former deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv in calling for a No vote in the referendum on the fiscal compact is also welcome.

Previous Fianna Fail leaders in opposition would not have hesitated to oppose government measures merely for the sake of doing so.

That Mr Martin has refused to do so shows he understands the need for Fianna Fail to convince the Irish people it has really changed.

The party's support for the referendum and the Ard Fheis represent a good start but -- to paraphrase Fianna Fail's 2002 general election slogan -- a lot done, (much) more to do.

Irish Independent