Why Fianna Fáil is right not to contest Aras11

The reality that Fianna Fail is no longer the huge force in Irish politics that it once was is gradually dawning on some.

Former big beasts in the forest are finding that they now do not strike the same sense of awe and fear they once did when the party commanded support levels of around 40%.

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 described as “the mother and father of a political punishment beating”.

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

The first among these is that the traditional way of doing political business will no longer work. That means, in this instance, that the old assumption that almost any candidate Fianna Fail selects from its own ranks will automatically be a front runner no longer applies. Things have changed utterly for everyone in the party, not just those at the top.

It applies even to huge voter getters like Brian Crowley. For him to think that he could personally withstand this swing against the party is to miss what happened last February.

There is no great evidence to show that the public anger has diminished significantly. 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, and is right, to wait until now to decide its strategy. The suggestion that this decision should – or could – have been made last June or July is 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 and scale of what happened last February had been digested.

Having the Gay Byrne flirtation in public before taking this decision was an error, though it hard to see how anyone could have thought the Byrne option could ever have been considered just in private.

It sent the wrong message to the party membership. Martin’s countrywide tour of the constituencies was reconnecting the leadership with the members – the Byrne episode has dented that reconnection: though not damaged it irreparably, despite the rantings of a few impetuous people on Facebook.

But consider what a hero Micheal Martin would have appeared if he had convinced Byrne to run. Consider too that some of those who were most critical of Martin for courting the popular light entertainer had – a few weeks earlier – been urging him to allow four or five of his Oireachtas colleagues to sign the nomination papers of another, equally well regarded entertainment figure; 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 a traditional style candidate is part of the process of letting former supporters know that it is taking the hard message they sent last February to heart.

This is not merely a question of the party saving a few hundred thousand Euros by not running a candidate – it is about Fianna Fail doing what it traditionally did best: facing up to harsh realities and addressing them. It is this which offers Fianna Fáil a way to renewal and recovery, not the fielding of an Áras 2011 candidate.

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