Saturday, March 24, 2007


THE way Fianna Fáil plays it is always pure Hollywood.

The body count is always high. Our heroes will have survived more scrapes than Indiana Jones and 007 combined. But somehow — despite all the odds — they emerge triumphant at the end.

It’s not that Fianna Fáil hasn’t shipped damage as the plot of this election has thickened. It has. Where do you begin? Decentralisation; electronic voting; BertieGate and debts of honour; nursing home charges; the sly cuts after the 2002 election; the CC case and statutory rape controversy; Eddie Hobbs and ‘Rip-Off Republic’; the Ivor Callely and Seán Haughey mess; the shifting mists that were Bertie Ahern’s views on Charlie Haughey; and, come to think of it, on everything else! And then there were the minor sub-plots: the exiling of Beverly Flynn and the utterly anonymous Michael Collins.

But the party clearly calculates that none of these — individually or collectively — will be enough to swerve it off course. The party felt emboldened enough earlier this week that the election will be fought on just one issue. And what is that? The Big E. No, not the environment, sadly. It’s the economy stupid.

Séamus Brennan set the tone when he began Fianna Fáil’s first bit of ‘pre-taliation’ by accusing the opposition of spendthrift flagrancy in their policies so far. These would end up costing billions and could bankrupt the country, claimed Brennan in his most sincere ‘I’m not messing now’ voice.

Of course, the corollary to that is that Fianna Fáil has kept its powder dry so far and is sure to announce its own lucky bag of goodies (of course, also costing billions) closer to the election.

Of course, the 71st Ard Fheis this weekend is an election one. But what’s interesting when you flick through the clár and observe the confident body language of ministers is this: they believe that the Big E will bring them home in 2007, as it did in 2002.

There will be no death by a thousand cuts this time. Yes, all those issues will be a factor. Some will hurt electorally. And, of course, the health and crime crises are biggies and could inflict potentially massive holes below the waterline.

But the net conclusion is that none is big enough to down FF completely. The party is like an SSIA account holder who has gone down the equity route. With only one month left it is hoping that no sharp shocks or corrections happen on stock markets that could put it all in jeopardy.

In the world of politics that means an A&E disaster; a CC case or Fr Brendan Smyth-type scandal; or an announcement from one of the huge technology companies that its ditching us for Timbuktu or Bora Bora.

And having done the political calculus, the Taoiseach and his closest aides have come to the conclusion that the economy out-trumps them all. The thinking goes: ‘The only thing that has made all these things possible — from roads to health to childcare — has been a thriving economy. And the only party that can guarantee the Big E is FF.’

Look at the slogan. “Leading Ireland Forward“. It could as easily be, More of the Same, or, Five More Years.

Listen to what Brennan had to say this week about this: “The task ahead in the future is to keep that going, not to put it at risk and to protect that economic development.”

Expect Ahern to expand on that in his presidential address tonight. Unlike other party conferences held so far this season, I don’t anticipate any major announcement on tax cuts, on stamp duty, on tax bands, or on anything that’s going to cost a ball of cash down the line. Not this weekend, maybe later (though there will be a couple of news lines to feed us ever-hungry news hounds).

The purpose this weekend will, therefore, be to rally the troops, for Ministers to bask in the glory of their mini fiefdoms, and an effort to portray a Government on top of its game.

Bertie Ahern is the poorest public speaker of them all, though Trevor Sargent gave him a good run for his money at the Green Ard Fheis last month. But that doesn’t matter. Bertie is still his party’s biggest asset. His worth to the party lies beyond oratory, in that ethereal quality that can be described only as Bertiality. And its effect has not worn off enough to prevent his face from adorning a lamp-post near you.

Yep, in true Hollywood tradition, what Fianna Fáil is really planning is ‘2002: The Sequel.’

This is my column from today's Irish Examiner

Click Here!

By the way, this is Bertie Ahern's opening address to the conference last night. He majored on the environment - it's definitely get scared of the Greens time!


Anonymous said...

Smack whack attack sh**e

Adam said...

Focusing on the economy is a no-brainer alright, even though it's looked slightly jittery lately it has been unquestionably strong during their 10 year reign and probably the only area the opposition have little to respond with.

The irony, of course, is that the opposition parties are as much the reason for our economic success as FF/PD are - some (ie they) would even argue that they're a more important reason.

I was at a drinks recently which Ruairi Quinn spoke at, during which he gave a lot of focus to the economy (and Labour's role in dropping corporation tax etc.). There was a QandA afterwards and I said that it struck me that Labour had an uphill battle in convincing the public that they are economically responsible too, mainly because they have been out of Government for 10 years and FF/PD have basked in the reflected glory of our growth even where it wasn't their making.

My overall point was that Labour may have planted the seeds but the electorate won't look at it that way. Many voters wouldn't have noticed such an important move at the time, many more wouldn't remember it. I bet if you ran a public poll asking who lowered corporation tax the majority of answers would be "don't know" or "Fianna Fail".

Quinn, however, simply repeated his spiel about the good Labour did in Government as an answer to my point and in doing so completely missed what I was getting at. That, in my opinion, is why FF have been able to connect Labour with economic uncertainty in the minds of voters.

Out of interest (on the issue of the environment), do you think FF's talk of their green credentials is more about cutting off the Green Party base or making themselves more acceptable to the PD's potential heirs?

Harry McGee said...

Fine Gael and Labour have tried to make that argument - that the good times really began in 1994-6. But Fianna Fail and the PDs have successfully headed them off at the pass on that.
On the comment in your last paragraph, Adam, my own impression is that it's a bit of both, that the Bert speaketh with forked tongue, and is trying to woo Green voters in the first instance, and the Green Party itself in case that gambit doesn't work.

Adam said...

I agree on their green tactic - I think the Budget had a hint of that too as I'm sure FF realise that given the choice Sargent and the Greens will back FG over FF any day.

On the economy issue, yes, the Government has always been able to beat down the FG/Lab assertion that they had any involvement in Ireland's prosperity and both parties need to battle hard to find a new way to back up that claim if they want to undermine FF's single greatest card for 2007. I don't think digging up the past will turn any heads, but in the same instance it's hard to see what else they can do.

In my opinion all four parties should take some kudos for the economy as no single "administration" can be held responsible for the country's growth... FG's Tallaght Strategy helped as did some of the better-late-than-never initatives of Haughey's reign... The Rainbow Coalition also did their part, but I wouldn't say that FF/PD made no contribution to the continued growth since then either.

That said, a friend of mine who is extremely learned in all things economic believes that the Irish economy has done well in spite of, not because of the Government (and I think he was referring particularly to FF/PD). I can agree that they have mismanaged a lot of things, but in terms of the economy I'm not sure what else they could have done (until very recently at least).

Anonymous said...

Unlike other party conferences held so far this season, I don’t anticipate any major announcement on tax cuts, on stamp duty, on tax bands, or on anything that’s going to cost a ball of cash down the line.

Good call, Harry ;-)

Harry McGee said...

I admitted it. Bang to rights. A fair cop. Hands up! See above blogs. I did have an excuse though. Fianna Fail was going to keep its powder dry but decided relatively late to shunt its policies forward. See above discussions.