| 16.4°C Dublin

Not contesting Aras election may actua lly do FF some good

THE reality that Fianna Fail is now not the huge force in Irish politics that it once was is gradually beginning to dawn on many in the party.

Former big beasts in the forest are finding they now do not strike the same sense of awe and fear they once did. Their words and wishes are not heeded now in the same way they were when the party commanded support levels of up to 40pc.


While watching the process of them coming to terms with this loss of influence and authority in public is neither edifying nor appealing -- it is better it happens quickly.

The reality of the last election is that Fianna Fail no longer has a God given right to presume it can be in power. It has received what a colleague of mine in the North called "the mother and father of a political punishment beating".

It is a beating the party can recover from, but that process will be long and difficult. The process of renewal the party must undergo must itself commence with a short lesson in facing facts.

The first among these is that the traditional way of doing business will no longer work. That means that the old assumption that almost any candidate Fianna Fail selects from its own ranks will be the front runner in an election no longer applies.

I can well understand a phenomenal vote-getter like Brian Crowley thinking he might be able to withstand the swing against the party, but he should have listened to those who were advising him not to pursue his presidential ambitions.

In particular he should have noted that one of those, Willie O'Dea, was an even greater voter-getter than him, yet O'Dea saw his massive Limerick City vote slashed by about 60pc in an election described by my former boss as 'catastrophic'.

There is no great evidence to show that the public anger with Fianna Fail has diminished significantly over the last six months.

Any candidate facing the electorate in the foreseeable future, and that includes this October, with Fianna Fail on their posters will incur the wrath of a still smarting public -- no matter how small they make the logo.


Contrary to the views of others, the party leadership was right to wait until September to decide its strategy. The suggestion that this decision should -- or could -- have been made last June or July is a nonsense.

This is a decision that required some time and space for calm consideration. It is a decision that needed to be made when the full impact of what happened in February had been digested.

Having the Gay Byrne flirtation in public before making this decision was a major error, though it's hard to see how the Byrne option could have had any hope of being considered in private.

It should also be borne in mind that some of those who were most critical of Micheal Martin for courting the entertainer had a few weeks earlier been urging him to allow members to sign the nomination papers of another, almost equally well regarded figure from the light entertainment world, David Norris.

There is a world of difference between accepting your current situation and allowing it to curb your ambitions. The fact that Fianna Fail may not directly contest this October's Presidential election does not undermine the party's hopes to recover the public trust it has lost. If anything, not running an internal candidate is part of the process of letting its former supporters know that it is taking the hard message they sent last February to heart.