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Ard Fheis season – the minor match before election battle

World of Politics with Harry McGee

Ard Fheis season is in full swing, with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over the last two weekends and the Greens are up this weekend. Labour had theirs last month as did the Social Democrats. Sinn Féin was the odd one out, holding its conference in the middle of November.

Long gone are the days when the leadership of parties was gazumped by a rebellion from ordinary delegates on a procedure motion. Or the days when one faction tried to take over the conference as happened after the Arms Trial 50 years ago.

Nowadays, it’s all as smooth as the fairways at the Masters in Augusta. Everything runs like clockwork. You could predict a week before what everyone is going to say, especially the leader in his address to the party faithful.

There are a few other changes. Once there were thousands of people there; nowadays, parties are lucky (with the exception of Sinn Fein) to get a few hundred for the ministerial speeches, and 1,500 for the leaders’ speech.

Anyway it was Fianna Fáil’s turn last weekend – and the party was not helped by the fact that Simon Harris was on the rampage.

Since becoming Taoiseach, the Fine Gael leader has been like a tornado, whipping up new promises across the whole of the week.

He has made promises on crime, on road safety, on health outcomes, on house buildings (250,000 homes built in five years) and on income tax (nobody earning under €50,000 would have to pay the top rate of tax).

Sure some of those promises will not begin to come into effect until after the next election, but you can see what he was at. He wants every moment of his foreshortened period as leader of the country to be a promise-rich environment.

Essentially he is making a pitch for the future – and, my friends, the sky’s the limit.

He even promised the Mirror last Saturday that he’d bring the leader of the Kinahan cartel to justice.

No less.

The effect was a good one. Harris got as much publicity over the weekend as Fianna Fáil did, even with the leader’s address from Martin going out live on TV on Saturday evening.

Pictured: Dark horse… Fianna Fáil Euro candidate Niall Blaney, here on a visit to the Connacht Tribune offices last week.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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