A YEAR AGO if someone had told Enda Kenny he’d be addressing Fine Gael delegates tonight having failed to abolish the Seanad but having successfully legislated on abortion he would probably have shot them a quizzical look.
Yet, over 18 months after Fine Gael last gathered for an ard fheis, or national conference as they’re calling it this year, that is what’s happened.
While it was the household charge protestors who greeted delegates at the Dublin Convention Centre in March 2012, the party how faces anti-abortion protestors at the South Court Hotel in Limerick today.
After a bruising Seanad referendum, where even some its own members thought the campaign was a disaster, the party is now facing into another austerity Budget. The media and delegates will hang on every word that comes out of Michael Noonan’s mouth today for hints about what to expect on Tuesday, but don’t expect much.
Never was the quote often attributed to Harold Macmillan, “events, dear boy, events”, more true than for Fine Gael over the past year-and-a-half, for it is events which have dictated the party’s journey through that period.
It’s been a tumultuous year for Fine Gael.
As is well documented the party lost a number of TDs and Senators over the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill but Health Minister James Reilly and the government as a whole steered through legislation which no government went near in over two decades.
Whatever your view that is, politically at least, to be admired.
Noonan can point to the considerable success he had in getting a deal on the promissory note. He remains popular despite pushing through some of the worst austerity every experienced by this country and could yet secure another success if he negotiates a deal on our legacy bank debt. Though that remains a tall order.
Talk around other Fine Gael ministers has been less about their achievements and more about their controversies since the party’s last conference.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s handling of the penalty points debacle and subsequent garda reports was undermined by his pursuit of Mick Wallace on Prime Time and subsequent backtracking in the Dáil. Still, he can say he got his referendum on a Court of Appeal passed last weekend. Something which the Taoiseach can’t claim in relation to the Seanad.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has had to deal with the international controversy caused by the horsemeat scandal but has coped well in the circumstances where revelations about food production standards in this and other countries were trickling out on a daily basis earlier this year.
In the junior ranks, John Perry appears to have weathered a storm over his personal finances though no one politically has really pursued the Small Business Minister as vigorously as might have been expected.
The party has had to deal with the tragic death of Minister of State Shane McEntee last December and oversaw the successful election of his daughter Helen McEntee to his Meath East seat in March.
Of course it’s a cliche but Fine Gael’s year-and-a-half since its last conference has been one which nobody in the party would have predicted.
Therefore it would be foolish to anticipate what might lie ahead in the coming 12 to 18 months but perhaps Enda Kenny will give us an idea in his conference speech later today.