In fairness the media were reasonably balanced at this year’s Ard Fheis, indeed the Irish Times were quite proactive and I even featured myself in their innovative video blog sequence, captured from the conference centre:
However I was disappointed with later ‘colour’ pieces from the same stable, where Miriam Lord put the boot in, choosing to focus on what are effectively ghosts from the past, rather than engaging with the actual live delegates, motions, workshops etc.
I penned the below letter to the Times in response to one of her pieces:
I was very pleased to be a participant in the very successful Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis last weekend. A very constructive weekend of policy discussion, organisational reform and internal renewal including elections where I was privileged to join many other new faces on the national executive. I noted your coverage included juxtaposition of the ‘working abroad’ expo which was held concurrently at the RDS and some snide commentary of same (Miriam Lord, March 5th). On that theme it should be noted that many of our delegates also visited that expo whilst at the Ard Fheis, being in a similar boat to any other expo attendees. It should also be noted that our gathering this year included new cumainn formed from members already abroad, representatives from the exiled Diaspora, indeed some election candidates and very valued voices were amongst their number.
The vast, vast majority of the 4,000 delegates at Ard Fheis and the 40,000 Fianna Fáil members nationwide experience the difficulties of recession as starkly as anyone else.
We remain determined to find constructive solutions to these problems. Others may differ on the political way forward. But the Fianna Fáil party is not and never was an elite cabal but is a party of ordinary members living ordinary lives and with the same ordinary problems as everyone else. Rather than media images obsessing on a handful of familiar faces in the crowd they should perhaps listen to the other 3,997 delegates there in attendance and actually now in the driving seat. The get together at the weekend was in one large part about the membership taking back ownership of the party and that project is well underway.
As I have said so many times on this blog and elsewhere, the party is not one or two voices (or faces) but an army of members whose views should be canvassed by anyone wanting to understand the party in 2012. Anyway we will keep moving on, and as I said in that video clip, and have often said on this blog, the members are now retaking the party and we shall certainly not be surrendering it lightly ever again. One Member, One Vote was a fantastic result at the weekend, changing an 80 year old rule on a delegate system, and allowing every member of the party from now on have equal say. The delegate system certainly wasn’t the cause of the recent problems but its replacement is symbolic of the appetite for and capacity for change the party is showing today.
4,000 delegates at the Ard Fheis, 1,500 members at the Leader’s Dinner last October, 550K raised by ordinary members in the national draw, our new members’ magazine into its 3rd edition, 2nd place in Dublin West by-election months after we’d been written off and now a brand new Ard Chomairle ready to take the reins on the renewal.
Change has come and will continue to come to Fianna Fáil.