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Remembering Albert shows how far FF has fallen

Fianna Fail is getting ready to bid farewell to a giant part of its past.

The death of Albert Reynolds (below) has prompted a flood of nostalgia within the Soldiers of Destiny, reminding them of the good old days when they dominated the Irish political landscape.

Micheal Martin should savour this while it lasts because it may be a very long time before his party produces another leader of Albert's stature, or even close to it.

Looking back over the details of Reynolds' career, one statistic shows just how far his old party have fallen.

When he secured 39pc of the vote in 1992's general election, it was universally described as a terrible failure.

Last weekend an opinion poll put FF at a miserable 18pc, proving that they still have not been forgiven for their role in Ireland's economic collapse.

The culprits are easy to identify. Reynolds' role in the Northern Ireland peace process means that history is sure to judge him kindly.

After him came Bertie Ahern, who also achieved great things in the North but has been discredited ever since the Mahon Tribunal.

Next up was Brian Cowen, arguably our worst Taoiseach ever, best remembered for sounding hungover on radio and throwing away Ireland's economic sovereignty.

Now the party is led by Micheal Martin, a decent man but one damaged by his membership of Bertie and Biffo's cabinets.

In other words, Albert was the last leader that FF can be really proud of.

Over the next few days we can expect to hear many fawning tributes from his old colleagues, conveniently overlooking the fact that some of them shafted him over the 1997 presidential nomination.

The one certainty is that his gutsy and risk-taking approach to politics makes the current FF frontbench look like pygmies by comparison.

Martin may as well milk the Reynolds' retrospective while it lasts, because soon enough a less savoury chapter of FF's history is about to be exhumed. This autumn RTE will screen Charlie, a three-part drama about Charlie Haughey.

While Martin will obviously protest that the Haughey era was a long time ago, the current FF leader should reflect on one inconvenient fact.

Charlie may have been a deeply corrupt Taoiseach who broke every rule in the book, but at least voters felt he had a certain aura about him.

It is hard to imagine anyone remembering the names of today's FF parliamentary party in 30 years' time - let alone wanting to watch a television programme about them.

Martin knows full well that his Dail team are an uninspiring lot, which is why he devotes so much energy to recruiting fresh blood.

At the same time he desperately wants to prevent the re-emergence of anyone who reminds people of FF's toxic history.

Mary Hanafin's comeback in the local elections caused him huge embarrassment and in recent weeks, Conor Lenihan, Mary Coughlan and John O'Donoghue have also been rattling their chains.

One of Martin's brightest young proteges is Kate Feeney, who famously contested the 'Battle of Blackrock' with Hanafin and came out a joint winner.

Since then she has used two hard-hitting summer school speeches to complain that voters are fed up with broken promises and Dail Eireann has not produced a positive role model in the last 20 years.

These are fine words, marking Feeney out as a potential star - but it would also be nice to hear the 27-year-old explain why she thinks her party has any answers.

bleak

With roughly 18 months left before the next general election, FF's prospects look fairly bleak. A recovering economy should help Fine Gael, Joan Burton has given Labour a polling bounce and Sinn Fein are hoovering up the protest vote.

To be fair, FF's reasonably good local election result showed that the party still has a pulse - but the evidence suggests it is getting weaker, not stronger.

Micheal Martin and his colleagues have a lot to ponder and question as they prepare for Albert Reynolds' funeral.

Not least this: where will the next Albert come from?


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