The by now weekly calls from various people that the talk about the leadership race is a distraction remind me of a driver in their car bemoaning all the traffic around them. It’s those very calls that keep the talk going and it seems to be forgotten by the many people making those calls that what kicked off the talk in the first place was the deadline or precondition of not leading the party into the next election that An Taoiseach himself created.
The party is lucky in my view to have a number of individuals who can take on the role of leader but all the talk about who the leader should be, when the contest should be and so on is entirely the wrong discussion for Fine Gael to be having.
The right discussion to have is about what type of party Fine Gael should be and what course it should be trying to travel in and what its destination is to be and only after that has happened can we talk about what person is best suited to leading that party. Deciding on a leader whether based on personality or legislative achievements while not being clear in our own heads about what the party stands for and what it aims to achieve is the proverbial cart horse scenario of yore. In the last 12 months, there have been references to the Just Society document that one would believe it was a holy tract. Others have made references to key phrases like the individual or enterprise that are intended to serve as shorthand for something or other, yet none of those invocations of well worn phrases should take the place of a proper debate, a really robust examination of what the party should stand for the next part of the 21st century. We’ve moved past bare bones austerity (cos it worked though most are loath to admit it) but we now need to move into a different phase when new goals can be seen as achievable if we’re realistic and honest about what’s need to achieve them e.g. we can have a better more equitable health service but only if we change how it is funded, and run and what is believes it is trying to do. There are many other areas to be explored too and that exploration needs to tackle place before a new leader is chosen.
Party Members are not mere passengers in the good ship Fine Gael, they’re the crew and the energy behind the party.They are the ones who literally bail out the party when the going gets too stormy. It is they that should come together to decide the future destination and to chart the course that the party needs to go on before deciding on the type of captain to take us there.
And in order to do that members need to be talking about that in the coming months in advance of their branch and constituency AGMs, and this discussion should be well advanced before whatever Ard Fheis or National Conference gathering may be planned for later on in the year.
My interest is in ensuring that both the current and any future leadership of the party reflects the thinking, views and experience of the party membership. Many of whom believe that the problems they pointed out both before and after the 2014 elections (the pig’s ear of reviewing medical cards without some basic common sense ground rules for those with life long conditions or terminal illnesses or the decidedly unsilk purse like mess made of Irish Water and many other issues) were not listened to in the planning for the 2016 election. Those members still feel that they were proved correct in their analysis of where the problems were and the mistakes made but that months after the two reports (Coy and the Parlimentary Party one) into the election were published that progress is not moving at the pace it should be.
With that in mind I believe the party members should start to organise their own regional gatherings over the next few months around the country. Events that are primarily focused on members talking to one another and not the usual top table lead events that serve as public speaking practice for some of the lesser lights of the parliamentary party. And to bring the ideas from those gatherings together, to collaborate on developing a common agreed direction for the party to go in, and to make the next Ard Fheis or national gathering a place of debate and discussion, even dissension and division (by voting) instead of a glorified and highly costly photo op.