| 12.5°C Dublin

FG faithful braced for protest at €250k party

Fine Gael has been forced into a massive security plan amid fears that thousands could disrupt this weekend's Ard Fheis.

The conference opened last night with an address by party leader Enda Kenny.

He said his Government had made "a solid start, but we have a long way to go".

A small but vocal group of protesters -- objecting to cuts in school funding and Anglo Irish Bank repayments -- gathered outside the Convention Centre before the Taoiseach's arrival at the first Fine Gael Ard Fheis since since entering government.

Gardai maintained a very visible presence to ensure that the north quays were kept open to rush hour traffic.


Mr Kenny arrived to a chorus of cheers and in his opening address told the audience that he was glad to report "that our partnership Government is working very well with a shared commitment to delivering our Programme for Government".

He told party members to enjoy their weekend "but don't overdo it".

He added: "Let us always be conscious of the huge responsibility that has been given to us and our partners."

He urged a yes vote in the upcoming referendum on the European Fiscal Treaty.

"The issue at stake in this referendum is straightforward: will we do what is needed to keep getting jobs back and get Ireland working?"

Fine Gael got a surprise opinion poll boost as the Ard Fheis opened with a Red C poll put its support up 1pc, to 35pc.

Labour was down 1pc to 16pc, Fianna Fail down 1pc to 15pc and Sinn Fein down a significant 4pc to drop below Fianna Fail on 14pc.

Fine Gael -- which is spending around €250,000 on the glitzy "celebration" this weekend -- is ensuring that there are no obstacles for members. A free creche has been provided.

Sources told the Herald that the hiring of the massive venue alone, including VAT, will cost in excess of €150,000.

The party will stump up thousands more on catering, security, branding, services for journalists and exhibitors. "There won't be much change out of €250,000," said an informed source.

In a letter to members, Fine Gael headquarters said "this is a time of celebration for us".

Fianna Fail's Dublin spokesman Darragh O'Brien told the Herald: "I would have thought that after their Party in the Park had to be cancelled, Fine Gael would have got the message that the Irish public really aren't in the mood for expensive triumphalism.

"It seems that after a year as cock-of-the-walk, Fine Gael have the money and the power and they want to make sure that everyone knows it."

However, a Fine Gael spokesman hit back saying: "Inevitably people are gathering from all over the country.

"This is a celebration for members but not necessarily for our members of the Oireachtas."