John Drennan got an interview in with Micheal Martin a few days before yesterday’s Ard Fheis. He therefore had some time to properly consider the position the leader of Fianna Fail finds himself:
Others in the party may be stepping around Leinster House like fellows who have put too much ginseng in their tea. ‘Nice’ Micheal, however, is acutely aware that, like the dog that robbed the joint of bacon on Sunday and comes to the back door looking for forgiveness when it is hungry on Monday, while the electorate is now talking to rather than shouting at Fianna Fail, the party that led the Republic into a debtors’ gaol is still on probation.
Martin is anxious to make it clear therefore that talk of future coalition is “too far ahead of the political evolution I’m trying to develop” where Fianna Fail becomes an “issues party”.
As Martin nervously notes, having bad thoughts about coalition would leave you open to people saying “who does your man think he is?”. I suppress the temptation to say “Good luck with that ‘issues’ thing” – for it is too easy, and less pleasurable than it was in the past, to be cynical. [emphasis added]
Less pleasurable perhaps because with some notable and honorable exceptions (like Drennan’s own former colleague, the late Alan Ruddock) too many of the media took rather too deep a draft of the cynical potion and had not been seen on lookout for some years when SS Ireland struck its humungous iceberg of debt.
The experience of the crash, the need to suddenly bone up on macro economics, to learn the delicate intricacies of Greek and Italian politics, the fragility of the German political ego has left everyone in the Republic a tad less certain, less bellicose, and a great deal more circumspect of how they frame Irish politics.
The moral certainty with which the country defenestrated the ‘grand old party’ as some insiders like to call it has been followed up with a pondering if they fully comprehended what they’d done.
John Waters, idiosyncratic and odd to the core, probably came closer than any speaker during the day to describing the symbiosis between what it is to be Irish and being in Fianna Fail (of which more later). It’s more a felt thing than anything thought out loud. And obviously something other party’s would hotly dispute.
It’s as though having redded their TDs out of Dublin and cut their numbers to a vestigial and rural core there is a wider cultural ambivalence about what life in political Ireland might mean without them.
That I suspect (having no science to prove it) is one reason why Fianna Fail rather than Sinn Fein has been the primary beneficiary of dissatisfaction with the government. The challenge as Noel Whelan noted yesterday is keep the focus on rebuilding the party one different grounds of the one Martin himself was part of that did too much of its private talking in the Galway tent.
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