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Can Fianna Fáil stop the in-fighting and bounce back?

Analysis: Is the Celtic Tiger party ready to return to power?

Internal wrangling will not create one extra job, internal wrangling will not create one extra childcare place, internal wrangling will not take one extra person out of the poverty trap – that’s what we’re here to do.

THOSE WERE THE words of Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary when he asked about the in-fighting in his party.

Calleary was speaking at the launch of the programme for the party’s 76th national conference, which kick off at the RDS in Dublin this evening.

The Mayo TD made it clear the “internal wrangling” that has dogged the party in recent months is a distraction.

That it has been.

1916 Programme of Events Éamon Ó Cuív and Micheál Martin Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Let’s take a look back at some of the recent bumps in the road the party has encountered.

1. The War of Dún Laoghaire

Mary Hanafin is looking to secure the Fianna Fáil nomination to run in Dún Laoghaire in the general election. The former minister won a seat on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in the local election last year.

Her return to public life wasn’t straightforward, however. After a botched nominating process, Hanafin ended up running as an ‘unofficial’ party candidate alongside Kate Feeney, the former head of Ógra Fianna Fáil.

Both were elected in what was dubbed the ‘Battle of Blackrock’. When it emerged that Feeney is also seeking the party’s nomination to run in the general election in Dún Laoghaire, Hanafin said the battle had now become the ‘War of Dún Laoghaire’.

Hanafin Elections Campaigns Posters Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Just this week, the Irish Independent reported that Hanafin was unhappy details of her criticising the party at a branch meeting were leaked to the media. She is alleged to have said Fianna Fáil “stands for nothing”.

In a further twist, councillor Jennifer Cuffe threw her name into the mix this week, just days after party leader Micheál Martin said she wasn’t running in Dún Laoghaire. Fellow councillor Cormac Devlin is also seeking the party’s nomination. Eyes will be peeled to see how this one plays out.

2. Broken hearts

Party stalwart Éamon Ó Cuív has been one of Martin’s most vocal critics, saying the lack of progress Fianna Fáil has made under his leadership is breaking his heart.

What is breaking my heart is that the party has not made more progress because Fianna Fáil has an important role in Irish politics. Our opinions differ on what is needed by the party in order to make some progress, but that is natural in any party.

Ó Cuiv recently held a meeting with Martin to voices his concern about the “low morale” in the party.

Colleague John McGuinness, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, told us about the effect Martin’s “baggage” has on Fianna Fail.

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Not everyone agrees with Ó Cuív  and McGuinness – Timmy Dooley being among this group.

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Meanwhile, Willie O’Dea called on his colleagues to air their concerns internally and refrain from publicly voicing displeasure with the the party’s direction.

However, just last night former Dublin City Councillor and would-be Fianna Fáil Dáil candidate for Dublin Central Mary Fitzpatrick said party strategists “lack ambition” and are “defeatist”.

3. Defection

David McGuinness quit the party after failing to secure the Fianna Fail nomination to run in the general election in Dublin West. He was beaten by fellow councillor Jack Chambers in a controversial selection convention in February.

At the time of his resignation, McGuinness said Fianna Fáil is “a party in denial”. Another councillor, Patrick McKee was poached by Renua Ireland to run in the Carlow-Kilkenny by-election.

Speaking of which, sources within the party say Martin’s leadership is in danger if Bobby Aylward doesn’t come up trumps in Carlow-Kilkenny next month. Martin has denied this is the case, however.

The party has been trying to move beyond all of these distractions and focus on rebuilding after the worst general election in the party’s history in 2011, when it lost 51 seats.

It’s not all bad news though, with Martin and others quick to point out Fianna Fáil is the biggest party in local government.

New policies

Last week, the party launched its anti-drugs policy. While its long-awaited health policy was unveiled on Tuesday.

This weekend will provide an opportunity for the party to regroup, but is unlikely to quell the rumblings of discontent.

Calleary denied the fact the party is not going to elect a new deputy leader until after the election is due to the internal disagreements.

We’re very happy with the leader we have and he will lead the fight from the front.

Tonight delegates will be asked to vote on introducing a new method of electing the party’s leader. If passed, the new rules would extend the vote to all of the party’s 20,000 members, councillors, MEPs, senators and members of the national executive.

Dara Calleary Dail Scenes Dara Calleary Source: Photocall Ireland

Calleary said the theme of the Ard Fheis – ‘An Ireland for all’ – is “very deliberate, reflecting on the work we’ve done in the Dáil as a party since 2011″.

Despite trying to move beyond the past, Calleary said former leaders Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen are both welcome to attend the Ard Fheis if they wish.

“We who are honoured and privileged to be within the parliamentary party have a responsibility to the wider party membership to respect the party. They want to see us working hard for the country. They want to see us working as a team focusing on recovery,” Calleary stated.

To keep up to date with everything happening at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, follow @TJ_Politics, @orlaryan and @oconnellhugh.

Originally published: 6.10am

Read: Yet another Fianna Fáil figure has had a go at “defeatist” party leadership

Read: A Minister for Dublin and scrapping water charges – How the country might change under Fianna Fáil

Read: Fianna Fáil wants a new tax… on sugar

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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