FF ardfheis

Follow the party’s 74th ardfheis from the RDS in Dublin. Contact us at @harrymcgee and @minihanmary

Harry McGee, Mary Minihan Sat, Apr 27
 
LIVE: FF ardfheis

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  • 10:27
    Good morning and welcome to the live blog for the 2nd day of the Fianna Fáil ard fheis from the RDS. I will be blogging this morning with my colleague Mary Minihan taking over for the afternoon. A lot of motions down for today. The most contentious and heated - and no prizes for guessing this - will be in relation to abortion. There are some interesting procedural motions as well - ordinary members getting a say in the election of a new leader; an extraordinary convention of the party convened before it agrees to enter into a coalition. The optics of all this? Goodbye forever to the notion of the Chief or the Boss and une duce une voce.
  • 10:32
    If you wish to comment or correct feel free to do so and we'll post them too.
  • 11:15
    The session on justice issues is on at the moment. Paul Williams, the crime reporter, gave his worldview, which was unsurprisingly bleak. Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Niall Collins has just finished speaking. He berated the closure of rural garda stations as well as the reduction in the numbers of the force. During the years leading up to the 2007 election, there was almost a bidding war between the parties as to how many gardai they would recruit. Michael McDowell just about achieved his target of 15,000 before he got the order of the boot in that year's election. Since the crisis the strength of the force has fallen quite significantly, and more in recent years as the impact of the Croke Park agreement with the public sector unions has kicked in. Crime is always fertile territory for an opposition party. Collins is one of Fianna Fail's straightest speakers and the portfolio suits him. You can expect this to be one of the major areas where Fianna Fáil will target the Government, as they have more credibility with the public than Sinn Fein on this issue. That's for historical reasons - it is only in recent years that Sinn Fein has acknowledged the primacy of the Garda Síochána in this jurisdiction.
  • 11:30
  • 11:37
    Micheál Martin has arrived in the last few minutes and is doing the rounds of the big hall in the RDS, which is still a little sparsely populated. It's live TV time at the moment. The party has chosen a kind of RTE Questions and Answers type format with guests sitting around on the stage, fielding questions from the audience, interspersing it every now and again with speeches from Fianna Fáil people. From an optics point of view it works well, but it's not particularly useful in terms of news or new information. The real meat of the conference will not occur until the afternoon when the motions on procedural issues as well as abortion are debated. One interesting reform which is being pushed this year is in relation to the party's ruling Ard Chomhairle. It is 100-strong and there is a sense in the party that it it unwieldy. It means that there will be an effort to reduce numbers, which will not be all that popular. One feature of the Fianna Fáil gathering each year is the high-visibility canvassing of the candidates for the committee of 20. Any member of the party can stand for the committee, which forms part of the Ard Chomhairle and it is the other members who vote. I'm not sure how the reforms will affect this set-up but in my view this is a good example of participative democracy, a device allowing ordinary members a say.
  • 12:06
  • 12:12
    Paul Does anyone know if there is anyone protesting up there or are we going getting the usuall spin on thing about how great everyone is
  • 12:15
    Paul Williams had a cut at two independent TDs Luke Ming Flanagan and Mick Wallace during the justice debate. He made big claim they were undermining democracy. The basis of his criticism of Mr Flanagan was the Roscommon Deputy's criticism of gardaí in recent months, over penalty points and other issues.
  • 12:16
    The finance session has now started. Guests include Ross Maguire SC of New Beginnings as well as Karl Deeter, an expert on mortgage broking, as well as Sandra Maher, head of Inspire Financial.
  • 12:24
    Michael McGrath, Fianna Fail's finance spokesman has delivered a speech to the plenary session. One of his main themes is one that we have heard a lot in recent days: ergo, austerity alone will not solve the crisis. "The Government has not got the balance right between reducing the deficit and investing in the economy. Fianna Fáil believes that, in the October budget, the Government must ease the planned adjustment, invest in the economy - it is time to give people a break!" A Kit Kat moment from Fianna Fáil. I'm sure Government parties will say it's a bit rich coming from the party that was in power when all came to a shuddering halt. McGrath has also some interesting things to say on mortgage arrears, which he described as a "national emergency". He has argued that the balance of power has shifted too much in favour of the banks. "[The Government] has given the banks a veto on any deals under the new Insolvency Service. Next week, the Government will bring to the Dáil a Bill that will pave the way for a raft of house repossessions. "In our view, the banks should not be given any more power until they demonstrate a genuine willingness and capacity to deal with this issue in a compassionate and fair way."
  • 12:37
    Fianna Fáil does have a problem in arguing against the property tax. It formed part of its four year plan in 2010. And its argument now that conditions have changed and that the cumulative effect of other taxes is too much is not a strong one. McGrath has been taking Fine Gael and Labour to task for reneging on pre-election promises on this issue. But you can say in the very same breath that Fianna Fáil has followed exactly the same curved path as the other two parties on this issue.
  • 13:25
    The plenary session on finance is coming to an end. Delegates are putting motions to the floor. One calls for an end to the current model of property tax to be replaced with a site value tax that takes account of ability to pay. Several of the motions are striking an anti-austerity theme, calling for less regressive approaches.
  • 13:26
    Ken Murray Ff policy on the prop tax is not credible. The alternative is to increase the tax on labour which is unsustainable at this stage
  • 13:41
    I took a walk around earlier and spoke to members and former members of the parliamentary party (no sign of Brian Cowen yet - he did come last year). The demographic is still older. And then there's a fair smattering of young delegates. Where the big deficit is, from what I can see, is the cohort in their 30s and 40s. Last year was a make-or-break Ard Fheis for the party, with question marks being asked about its future. As Noel Whelan remarked in his closing lines of his book on Fianna Fáil: "It remains to be seen whether Fianna Fáil will be around to commemorate any more significant anniversaries. The omens are not good for its recovery." Things have moved on from then. That question has been settled and the party is more confident and ebullient than it was in the run-up to last year.
  • 14:12
  • 14:18
    Hi Mary Minihan here, live blogging from the 'gender balance in politics' event, chaired by Senator Averil Power. She says Party leader will write to all female members encouraging them to put themselves forward for local area representatives. A mentoring programme is being put in place. Only a year to go to locals, she says, providing lots of opportunities for women candidates.
  • 14:20
    Fianna Fail will push for maternity leave for Oireachtas members, which doesn't exist at present, says Senator Averil Power.
  • 14:22
    Mary here again...Former Minister Mary O'Rourke recalling the Charlie Haughey era, when the Fianna Fail women's group was set up.
  • 14:25
    Mary O'Rourke says there was a need then for a "reawakening" and there's a distinct need now for something similar in a more modern context. Says lots of FF success in 87 was due in large part to women's group. "It became a thing. You coudln't miss a Fianna Fail women's outing". Says she'd be glad to become a mentor. "Every women or man going for politics needs a partner who believes utterly in them."
  • 14:28
    Mary O'Rourke tells the men in the audience at the RDS concert hall (they are mostly down the back!) You've nothing to fear from an all-female Fianna Fail group...only untold delights".
  • 14:59
    One male delegate tells the workshop politics is a "dog's life". Mary O'Rourke agrees, but adds: "It's a very enjoyable one". The male delegate says you can have as many training sessions and quotas as you like, but Irish politics has to change for the benefit of both sexes. "Most male politicians I know are estranged from their children," he adds.
  • 15:57
    Party leader Micheal Martin will speak to the media shortly - we'll bring you an update on what he has to say...
  • 17:23
    So Micheál Martin had some strong things to say about the Government's approach to Croke Park II. Says the Coalition approaced in a traditionalist way and frontline workers in the health sector were isolated.
    "So there was divide and conquer. There was a bit of bribery with the €300 million honey pot and buying off unions and side deals and then there was threatening at the end that didn't work either." Said Government should go back to the table and negotiate a deal "in good faith". He conceded there would still have to be savings in the order of €300 million in the public service, however.
  • 17:26
    Micheál Martin also said the party was not thinking about going into Government "because we have a long way to go". Fianna Fail had "a journey to go yet" as a political party to gain the trust of the people. "We're working on rebuilding the party, renewing it, getting sufficient strength for the local elections..."
  • 17:53
    The conference is behind schedule on motions. There may be nothing for it but to impose a guillotine!
  • 17:58
    Abortion debate underway. Donegal delegate urges delegates not to allow the introduction of legislation based on what he describes as the "flawed" Surpreme Court judgement on the X case.
  • 17:59
    Another delegate says the Government is introducing legislation that ignores the evidence it heard at the Oireachtas hearings. 'They propose to go ahead with a law that has at its heart a contention that abortion is a treatment for suicide,' he says.
  • 18:01
  • 18:12
    Call from Dun Laoghaire to reaffirm FF's position as a pro-life party. "Delegates I urge you to send a clear and simple message: that Fianna Fail was and isa pro-life party".
  • 18:13
    Lisa Chambers stands up to speak...but it's about water fluoridation...
  • 18:16
    ...and she also speaks about the cost of generic drugs. However, another woman is up seconding a motion on abortion. There is nothing liberal, compassionate or progressive about introducing proposed legislation. Critical of National Women's Council.
  • 18:20
    Another woman (a doctor) on the same topic..."we have this one last golden opportunity...to be the only truly pro-life party in the country". Another woman says Fianna Fail is being too strict on the issue. Focuses on cases where the 'foetus is incompatable with human life'.
  • 18:20
    ...asks for the motion to be opposed...
  • 18:22
    Another woman says Fianna Fail has always been a party that is pro-life. "We have behaved liked teenagers. We need to realise that mistakes have been made in other countries and we have to learn from those mistakes." Says British abortion statistics have a "truly chilling" lesson for Ireland which no responsible legislator could ignore.

  • 18:23
    Once the right to life is conceded it's only a matter of time before the grounds for abortion are widened and expanded, she says. "The only way forward is to introduce guidelines".
  • 18:28
    A man speaking to resolution number 10 expresses grave concerns about plan to legislate for suicide ideation. Suggests that for Labour and the pro-abortion lobby groups this is the only way to get "abortion on demand into the country".

    Young woman from Donegal says abortion "is not a treatment for threatened suicide". Says this is the most important issue the party will discuss this weekend. Says she knows women who have had abortion and deeply regretted it. "The horror of what happens in other countries cannot be ignored."
  • 18:30
  • 18:30
    Longford man says the Savita case has been "used as a political football" and has no relevance to the X case. "We need to listen to our experts and not the power-hungry polls-driven politicians that are in office right now".
  • 18:33
    Another young man says there are some situations where both lives can't be protected. "Yes, that's tragic." In such cases the mothers life should be protected but suicide ideation should not be included in legislation.

    Anonther man is critcal of Pat Rabbitte. "We have to support the basics of a tradition of saints and scholars".
  • 18:34
  • 18:37
    Abortion motions carried by large majority.
  • 18:41
    Billy Kelleher says party will be mindful of views expressed on abortion. Hopes party will develop a cohesive view. "We will have that debate over the next number of weeks". A clear and concise position will be developed, he assurse delegates.
  • 19:28
  • 19:32
  • 20:16
  • 20:18
    Sinn Fein spent more time talking about FF than themselves at their recent ard fheis, Senator Darragh O'Brien says (while warming the crowd up for Micheal Martin). "Opposition that is all negative bluster and no solutions".
  • 20:23
    O'Brien's message to Michael Noonan: "There is nothing natural about evicting people from their homes". Mention of Alan Shatter met with a few jeers. "The Marie Antoinette of Fine Gael," according to O'Brien. Claims he''s the only minister of justice since the formation of the State to overwhelmingly lose the support of the gardai. "Fianna Fail will stand by the gardai," he thunders. The crowd like it.
  • 20:26
    O'Brien says James Reilly's "great beside manner" has lost him a junior minister, the head of the HSE and the confidence of the majority of nurses. "Our minister for health - I wouldn't let him run my daughter's creche." Now turning his attention to Labour Ministers, Ruairi Quinn and Joan Burton. Cuts to child benefit his focus now...
  • 20:28
  • 20:29
    Thomas Byrne, FF's candidate in Meath East, gets a standing ovation. Darragh O'Brien assures the crowed that FF in Dublin "is on the march again" and "will deliver" at the next local election.
  • 20:31
    Standing ovation as the party leader takes to the stage. The crowd whoops and whistles...
  • 20:33
  • 20:34
    The party leader on the attack from the off: "Ireland will come through this crisis. The skills and spirit of the Irish people will make sure of this – yet they see a Government which is already out of touch and has none of the urgency or ambition which is so badly needed.

    "Let me repeat what I’ve been saying since the first day of this Dáil – if you want destructive politics-as-usual, if you want blinkered all-out opposition, then the Fianna Fáil party I lead is not for you."


  • 20:35
    He defends his party's voting record in Leinster House: "If you look at the record of the Dáil you will see that when it was the right thing to do, Fianna Fáil voted in favour of government measures. But when they get it wrong, when basic requirements of fairness are ignored, we stand against them."

    Stresses the problems of large mortgages, unemployment and "disappearing" services and gets a laugh when he says: "If that’s how their plan looks, when it’s working, what would it look like, if it wasn’t?"


  • 20:37
    The Fianna Fail leader suggests the Coalition is going after the 'little man' when he says: "The less you have, the more this government wants from you. The more you rely on a frontline public service, the more likely you are to lose out."

    He implies his party would take care of such people if back in Government: "With new levies and taxes the one thing they refuse to respect is your ability to pay."
  • 20:38
    The capital programme has been cut too deeply, Mr Martin tells his ard fheis. His alternative? "We believe a €4 billion capital programme funded by the National Pension Reserve Fund and investment by pension funds should be introduced." Advocates a tougher approach with the banks, who he accuses of "hoarding" money given to them to lend to businesses.
  • 20:40
    Mr Martin doesn't forget the farmers. Calls for "urgent and comprehensive action on a fodder crisis", which goes down well among this (largely rural?) crowd. Accuses the Government of being out of touch. Now turning to small business owners. "Businesses on our streets need room to breathe." The crowd like this message too.


  • 20:44
    Back to the banks: "At immense cost the banks have been recapitalised by the Irish people and they have reserves which are there specifically to tackle this problem." Says families should get a "real chance" to tackle unsustainable debts...now turning to property tax...
  • 20:45
    Mr Martin is sticking with his party's "wrong tax/wrong time" line. No one here is objecting to his message, unsurprisingly: "It makes no provision whatsoever for the ability of people to pay. It actively discriminates against many urban areas.

    "And still, no one in Government has explained why families who cannot even pay their mortgage are now being asked to pay this property tax? It is wrong to expect families to do so. This is the wrong tax at the wrong time."
  • 20:48
    Mr Martin turns his attention to the Minister for Justice and the closing of Garda stations. "Alan Shatter thinks that telling someone to find their Garda on Facebook is smart policing. Fianna Fáil thinks that he is abandoning a model that works and we will campaign to restore community policing," he says. Rueful laughter and applause from delegates. Pledge to "restore community policing" well received.
  • 20:49
    The Labour party's "direct control" of education policy is his next targetL "It has done nothing to respect the role and achievements of education professionals and in particular, those staff who play a crucial part in educating children with special needs." Loud applause from delegates.
  • 20:51
  • 20:51
    Public servants praised and Government's strategy on Croke Park 2 derided. "The rejection of a deal for the first time in over 25 years is what happens when a government is more interested in talking to the media than talking to its own workers."


  • 20:52
    Silence in the hall as Mr Martin recalls the party's heavy defeat at the last General Election...he quickly moves on to the famliar claim that the Coalition is all spin and no substance. "They have changed the status of who drives their cars – but they haven’t implemented a single significant change in how Ireland is governed. They said they wanted change but actually all they wanted was their turn."
  • 20:53
    Mr Martin calls for bringing "outside expertise into policy decisions".

    Also calls for reform at European level. "How many more emergency summits must there be before they realise the current system is broken and it must be reformed?"
  • 20:55
    Turning now to Northern Ireland and the party's record on the peace process...Mr Martin says there's an "alarming disengagement" by Irish and British Govts. "The flag riots and dissident violence simply cannot be ignored."
  • 20:56
    Mr Martin says the Government is unaware of the growing anger in the country. His message to Taoiseach Enda Kenny is greeted with cheers: "If he takes the time to go to the doors he’ll find there’s nothing silent about the majority of the Irish people.

    "He’ll find there’s nothing silent about their anger at a government of spin and broken promises."
  • 20:58
    Describes FF once again as a progressive republican party with a "credible voice". As he concludes Mr Martin gets a standing ovation and members of his parliamentary party (and others) rush the stage to be near him.
  • 21:19
  • 22:55
    Thanks for reading. Goodnight.