9 September 2004 Edition

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FF's odyssey is about image-making


The Fianna Fail odyssey took another turn this week, bringing the parliamentary party to Inchydoney County Cork for more reflection and it seems a bit of soul searching over the June local and EU election results.

In the weeks and months since the June poll, Fianna Fáil have been acting like a party in opposition, bemoaning failures in government policies and promising new strategies for future government.

We will have to wait until the end of September for this odyssey to end. Only then will Bertie 'Ulysses' Ahern unveil his new cabinet, a grouping he hopes will provide him with the leadership to marshal a third consecutive term of office for the party. Such a feat would put Ahern in the de Valera camp of Fianna Fáil greats.

Both Lemass and Haughey managed consecutive terms of office. Three in a row would ease Ahern into the FF premiership ranking, though he is still way behind de Valera's record of six consecutive terms of office, and eight in total.

Tanaiste and Progressive Democrat leader Mary Harney talked this week about, "a new government" with a "new group of people". This is interesting as it is highly unlikely that the PD line up will change even though there may be a change of post for herself.

It remains to be seen whether Harney is hinting at new Ministerial posts for Fiona O'Malley, Noel Grealish, Mae Sexton or even Liz O'Donnell who declined a post in 2002.

One theme of the summer seems to be Fianna Fáil's rediscovery of their social roots in the small farmers and workers of Ireland who helped them storm into power in 1932. In the noughties this translates into alleged new policy initiatives from Ahern and Harney. Ahern spoke this week of directing spending 'towards the poor, the disabled and community projects'.

Ahern also said, "When the resources are there, I don't think there is anyone advocating that those resources should go to the rich or just stay in the reserves".

Progressive Democrat Senator and former party chairperson John Minihan was even more specific this week. Minihan talked of prioritising spending in the areas of "health, education disabilities and justice". He specifically cited the issues of special needs assistants, childcare and reducing the tax burden on the low paid. The government clearly know where the gaping flaws are in their policy platform so why put us all through their summer of soul searching as they skip from one luxury location to another?

The truth is that this summer trip is all about constructing a new image for Fianna Fail. Ahern stressed this week that, "Mary Harney and I are both people of social conscience. We are both from humble backgrounds and so are our political parties".

Time will tell if this is yet another classic Ahern bluff, but who would have thought we'd ever see barefoot angst ridden TDs wandering along Atlantic shores?

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