Now here’s a little adjunct to the NI Water affair, but before our resident conspiracy theorists go off on another one, so far as we can tell it is an adjunct. Pat Parland, who is currently head of their Communications team and sits on that controversial board will be leaving NI Water at the end of August to take up a position as Director of Communications (and Deputy General Secretary) at Fianna Fail in Dublin.
Hmmm some might say, from the frying pan straight into the fire… In fact the Fianna Fail post has been open since Gene McKenna stepped down in February. In the meantime they have been struggling to get the right person for the post.
As Miriam Lord noted back in May, those that did apply in the first were for the most part, party hacks,who were given what one FF TD described as “PFO letters” (erm, that would be ‘Please Eff Off’) for their trouble… She also reports that Martin Whelan of the Construction Industry Federation gave the party the same sort of brush off when he was approached.
McParland, a native of Armagh and one time member of the SDLP, is taking on another difficult role in which he must deal with at least as much trouble happening inside the party as there is on the outside.
For instance, a recent internal party report by Chris Flood and Gerry Collins highlights the degree to which party Cummain now barely exist in reality, particularly in urban areas of Dublin and Cork, where Labour are promising to take great swathes of votes from FF.
When he takes up the post in September, McParland will work as deputy to the party’s General Secretary, Seán Dorgan. Dorgan is thought to be a gifted pollster, but poorly skilled in communication. And there is a greater gap between the party’s national organisation and cabinet, not least because of a profound disconnect between Brian Cowan’s government handlers at the Government Information Service and those of Party Headquarters than at any point in recent political history.
Add to that the party’s debt problem:
It was widely reported in March that Fianna Fáil is €3.6m in debt. The main cause of the debt has been the number of elections and referendum campaigns the party has had to fund in recent years.
Since the 2007 general election, the party has had to fight two referendums on the Lisbon Treaty, the 2009 local and Euro elections, and the Dublin South and Central by-elections. The second Lisbon campaign alone cost €450,000.
Even leaving aside the scale of the national crisis (which the polls unambivalently suggest people wholeheartedly blame the Government for), you can see why Fianna Fail have had such deep rooted problems.
It is understood that McParland was head-hunted by the party rather than the other way round. Still he has his work cut out for him, not least since the party will, almost certainly, sustain its worst electoral performance in generations. That being so, there will almost certainly be a cull of the current leadership afterwards.
McParland needs to have effected a substantive change in the weather by the time of the next election. As one party spokesman told the Tribune recently:
“There is a huge level of inactivity but it is not just the fault of the local organisation. Ministers have not been on the ground enough to explain what is going on.”
In that respect McParland’s task is a relatively simple one (though from easy to achieve): reconnect the top of the party to the base (before it’s too late). And it’s clearly Labour’s concomitant task (thus Mr Gilmore’s call against a pact with FF this morning) to drive an irreplaceable political wedge between them first.
It remains to be seen how effective this new northern broom will be at sweeping out Fianna Fail’s bare and dusty cupboard…
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