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
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!