Fianna Fáil resurgent

There will be sighs of relief and wonderment at the Fianna Fáil ardfheis this weekend as delegates consider the party's impressive recovery, following its collapse in the general election of 2011. Nobody predicted such an early bounce-back and party leader Micheál Martin can take much of the credit. For the first year, he toured the constituencies and encouraged members to engage in a process of renewal and policy formation. Faced by a damning report on political corruption from the Mahon Tribunal, he introduced new ethical guidelines and forced the resignations of party luminaries Bertie Ahern and Pádraig Flynn. It was not popular with the old guard. But it worked.

Tactical mistakes were made, such as not contesting the presidential election. That political space allowed an assertive Sinn Féin to grow strongly. It was helped by Mr Martin’s commitment to provide “constructive opposition” in the Dáil. When Sinn Féin overtook Fianna Fáil in the opinion polls, however, all that changed. Full-blooded opposition to Government became the norm as the party battled on two fronts. Ground was recovered as the party bared its teeth. Necessary financial and administrative measures were opposed, even when they originated with the last government.

Confidence has been flooding back into the party as opinion polls recorded a growing level of support and suggested the possibility – unthinkable a year ago – of a return to government. The combination of parties that might be involved didn’t matter. What counted was that high unemployment levels, threatened taxes and falling living standards were providing fertile ground and a disillusioned electorate.

As Fine Gael and Labour Party ministers struggle to devise abortion legislation that is least damaging to the Government and to their parties, Fianna Fáil is in a comfortable place. The party's opposition to legislation providing for the "X" case is practically guaranteed. Having ignored that judgment during 14 years in government, Fianna Fáil – as a "pro-life party" – will have little difficulty in identifying potential or unintended hazards.


Four thousand delegates are expected to attend the ardfheis, a spectacular recovery for a party that lost 58 Dáil seats two years ago.

The party still has problems, particularly in Dublin, where support lags other areas. That may change, following rejection of Croke Park II by public service unions.

Conflict on the trade union front would open up the prospect of gains at the expense of the Labour Party.

The local elections of 2014 will represent a significant challenge and the party is already recruiting young, personable candidates. On the last occasion, Fine Gael broke Fianna Fáil’s domination of local authorities and emerged on top. It should be a fascinating re-match.