So Slugger’s live blogging experiment ran last weekend with the biggest (and arguable the most important) party conference on the island: the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis in Dublin. (We’re doing the Greens next weekend so let us know if you are up for Twittering or live blogging). My favourite headline arising is one drawn directly from the words of Transport Minister Noel Demspey… Damage by bankers ‘comparable only to Cromwell’… Deaglan was the first I saw pick up the reference to history… For those unfamiliar with Fianna Fail’s version of Irish Republicanism, it’s not a bad taster:
Someone asked me what the Fianna Fáil ardfheis was like. It was like a very large country wedding, I replied. And its true. The kind of people one meets at such occasions – and this is a factual observation, not a derogatory remark – are like distant, dimly-recalled relatives from somwhere down the country who come to life from the pages of a photograph album at a family wedding or funeral.
Dempsey was the warm up act for the warm up act. The reference to Cromwell had the crowd whooping like he was some ballsy bishop rousing a bunch of cowed and ‘put upon’ priests from their penitent stupor. It had more of a feel of a variety act than a serious political speech. Keeping the spirits of the troops up.
Afterwards came the real warm up act: the Three Irish Tenors. But after a full seven minutes of The Town I Loved So Well (no doubt lobbied for by Derry Fianna Fail!) the whole thign resumed it’s previous funereal pace, before a robotic Tainiste introduced the main act.
Cowen’s speech added up to just one thing. And one thing we already know. ‘We’re all stuffed; and I am going have to sting you for a shedload of taxes!’ He was almost poetic at times: “the pain of losing something is more intense than the joy of gaining it”. Not quite Wordsworth’s ‘The world is too much with us’, but enough to give us a hint of the existential shock awaiting the electorate.
It was a gentle introdcution to a soft sounding Irish word with potentially ominous connotations: meitheal.
It’s a word that these days has a formal meaning mostly attached to working groups, or sub committees convened to perform specific tasks. But its older meaning, describes the way in which old rural communities would rally round a neighbour when in trouble. The year my grandfather died, a storm blew the roof off my widowed grandmother’s house. A large group of neighbours got together and put up a new one for her.
In modern terms it implies the State as a provider is leaving the building and ‘communities’ will be expected to help themselves through the coming, possibly very prolonged crisis. There is no indication of how that might happen; for now he is just warning that it will happen.
This would (when its concrete proposals appears at the moment most convenient to the party, rather than the country) the equivalent of throwing everything out of the balloon in order to gain height. Which suggests Cowen’s focus is not on what cannot be won (ie, the Euro and local elections). Everything this party does is calculated with Leinster House in mind. Even if Fianna Fail people have to bleed at the polls, then so be it.
In the meantime, the Opposition parties should be cognisant of the fact that they may be placing rather too much confidence on the depths of Fianna Fail’s predicament, and paying too little attention to what their own policy answers are to be to the questions that voters will be asking in three years time.
Namely; do I have a future?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty