Updated: 08/12/16 : 05:01:01
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Fianna Fáil woolly on 'who' decides party membership

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

JOE QUEENAN must have found a four leaf clover in the fields around Enniscrone.

The local cumann ''invite'' is there and wish to see him rejoin the Fianna Fáil fold.

But he is going to mull over it a little longer; most independents do, too. 

Those who taste any 'freedom' outside the official fold savour the absence of the shackles and rigidity of life inside political parties.

The late Neil Blaney will always come to mind when you think of independents outside the Fianna Fáil family fold who stayed happy enough to stay there.

Blaney always (cutely) said in public: ''I NEVER left Fianna Fáil, it left me.'' 

It was true, too. Then 4,000 delegates at a Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis I attended in the mid 1970s voted to bring back Blaney.

It was a Cork leader in Fianna Fáil then, too and he just, well, 100% ignored the delegates.

Check the 1979 European election results in Connacht Ulster when Blaney topped the poll. That result and that summer hastened the end for Jack Lynch. 

It was Bertie Ahern who later mended all the many (broken) fences inside Fianna Fáil in his time as leader. 

Not since Sean Lemass, both in charge of organisation and as party leader did anybody do as good a job as Bertie did as a party unifier.

On Ground

Lemass was the brains who built Fianna Fáil; he was here on the ground in Sligo within 20 months of the party being founded.

He helped turn the most barren of pickings into a legendary machine.

Ahern was in the same mould and Bertie's legion of detractors neither (a) comprehend his achievements or (b) even try to understand him.

Goose Step

The notion that the leader of the day personally decides the rank and file membership of the party is hollow. 

That specific idea seemed to grow special legs with Jack Lynch and it ultimately became his bus pass to the backbenches.

Charles Haughey was later accused of introducing the 'goose step' to Fianna Fáil when he tried and failed the same stunt. 

It remains to be seen whether or not any party supporters of Bertie Ahern decide to 'sweat' Michael Martin on the membership issue early in 2017.

If the party leader claims the final say-so on Bertie Ahern then is he also personally claiming the same veto rights on Joe Queenan coming back in west Sligo.

Past Achievements

Meanwhile, Michael Martin also needs to make a more public endorsement, and more often, of past leaders' achievements in Fianna Fáil. 

That includes the various achievements of Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern, Charles Haughey. 

If that is something he has any problem with then perhaps he should retire. 

On the other hand, he could yet face a leadership challenge or a stalking horse might surface. 

Most Fianna Fáil leaders have faced both in the past half century; Meehawl Martin would need considerable luck to escape.

Recent opinion polls do not indicate Martin has, in the public mind, sufficient reservoir of The Right Stuff. 

Martin has lost three elections in six years -- one Presidential and two general elections.

Gene Kerrigan wrote a short but withering thumbnail portrait of Martin in last weekend's Sunday Independent.

Poster Puss

Add in that the 'puss on the poster' contest of the next general election face-off in 2017 or 2018 could be a no-contest between Leo Varadkar and Meehawl Martin. 

The suspicion (and only that, as of now) is that the next leader of Fine Gael may seek a swift public mandate. 

The pretence by contestants that a leadership contest is 'healthy' and 'democratic' is just that.....pretence.

In such context, maybe Martin, and Fianna Fáil, will need to start courting every last friend it has in west Sligo or north of the Liffey.