Somewhere I have a video of a press conference with Brian Cowen holding forth about the latest, slightly embarrassingly honest pronouncement from the Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Patrick Honohan.
It’s one thing reading Bertie-speak, or listening to it on streaming from the houses of the Oireachtas, its another being on the ground and being expected to make enough sense of it so you can tell some third party the size and import of what was said.
And Mr Cowen was a very fluent speaker.
Cowen inherited the tired and circular politics of the tail end Ahern years. There’s little doubt that the deal making ward boss of FF made a huge contribution to the peace settlement in Northern Ireland, in some part precisely because he could never be tied down exactly what he meant.
He sounded confident, authentically Irish and mostly in charge. That was good enough.
And it may be that history will judge him more kindly than his current press which from a current Fianna Fail point of view means he must sacrificed to provenance if the party has a pup’s chance of regaining even a proportion of the respect it commanded for most of the history of the state.
Micheal Martin, the man Bertie once tried to burn in that most tactical of Irish political ways by gifting him the nightmare of health reform, made it clear that Bertie’s memory is no longer held dear amongst the Fianna Fail faithful, when he accused his former Taoiseach and leader of being “out of touch with reality”.
According to this op ed in today’s Examiner (byline missing):
Micheál Martin must know that he is probably the first leader of his party who will never be Taoiseach, but this realisation frees him too. If he can convince the rearguard of a once great party that ideals outweigh privilege, that the purpose of politics is social not individual, that they can yet make their founders’ hopes a reality, then they might have some sort of a future.
Even if he manages all of that, he will have to convince a broader audience that the tribalism that once animated the differences between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael still has any relevance.
He, or his successor, will have to convince Ireland that we need a second conservative, middle-of-the road, middle-brow party. This may prove the highest hurdle of all and it will be a question waiting for Fine Gael when they eventually return to the opposition benches.
That’s a tough mission, not least because regenerating Fianna Fail as the Woolworths of Irish politics is possibly heading against the tide of political and human history.
And the party now has a rival Republican party it must convincingly outstrip in the next general election if it is to build any kind of bridgehead to return to power. Dumping all of its history is not an option.
Fine Gael finally found their way back to power and influence not simply because of the strong collective disgust with all the parties associated with the last government, but because it seemed to have regained a purpose and appetite for taking on difficult, arduous and possibly unthanked task of drawing the country out of a deep pool of despond.
Fianna Fail will need to rescue what remains ‘vital’ (in the sense of still being tangibly alive) of their own tradition, and renewed sense of patriotism. The four-in-the-morning mumble of Bertie-speak told us amongst other things that the project was knackered.
Anois, tá sé in am leo le filleadh ar a foinsí.