Concern is growing in Fianna Fáil over support for the party with ‘abysmally low’ numbers of members registered to attend its Ard Fheis in a week’s time.
The Irish Daily Mail understands that just 700 members have so far applied to attend the annual party conference, compared to the 3,000 who went in previous years.
The party’s historic 80th Ard Fheis will be the first it has held in three years due to the pandemic – and the first with Micheál Martin as Taoiseach.
Despite this, senior party figures say they are struggling to even convince Fianna Fáil councilors to attend the two-day gathering, which is due to take place in the RDS on September 30 and October 1, and once attracted as many as 5,000 attendees during the eras of former taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Charles Haughey.
‘Ferocious efforts’ are now underway at Fianna Fáil headquarters to get TDs and senators to convince members in their constituencies to travel to the capital to watch Mr Martin make his address at the 80th Ard Fheis, sources told the Mail.
The party has declined to comment on the number registered to date.
But Fianna Fail veteran Willie O’Dea told the Mail that even elected members of the party are considering whether or not to attend.
‘In my own constituency, the registration is very low. People just don’t have the interest,’ Mr O’Dea said. “Part of it is down to the cost of hotels in Dublin and the cost of living in general, but that’s just part of it. There’s an undercurrent of disillusionment since we entered a coalition.
‘I’m surprised to hear that the figures are that low but, at the same time, when I look at my own constituency, it’s even difficult to get the councilors to go,’ said the Limerick TD.
This comes amid growing frustration within the party backbenches over Fianna Fáil’s identity and Mr Martin’s leadership.
Last weekend, two separate opinion polls for the Business Post and Sunday Times saw Fianna Fáil claim 17% and 24% respectively. Sinn Féin led at 35% in both polls, while Fine Gael stood at 17-20%. Party backbenchers recently said that Fianna Fáil is ‘sleepwalking’ into election disaster.
Another TD told the Mail that ‘nobody is particularly surprised by the low registration numbers for the Ard Fheis, as they also voiced frustration over the recent party think-in, which took place in Mullingar earlier this month, saying it left many members feeling’ frustrated’.
“It’s not good, but it’s not surprising,” they said. ‘This is what happens when you suffocate the party like what has been done. At the thin-kin in Mullingar, the whole event was suffocated by packing out the agenda.’
Efforts are now underway to boost registrations ahead of the event. “There are serious attempts being made by HQ to get TDs and senators to convince councilors and people in their constituencies to come and have seats filled,” one TD said.
‘You never would have had this years ago. When the invite would be sent out, the reply would almost be automatic. Things are very different now.’
Another TD raised concerns that attendance figures could remain low – saying it could be a ‘far cry’ from previous years.
‘Going back to the Haughey and Bertie eras, you’d have 5,000 people packing out the halls. In more recent years, we’d be doing well to get 3,500,’ they said.
“People are blaming the situation on the accommodation issue but you can’t help but think this is a reflection of what people are feeling within the party.”
This week’s Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting was canceled due to Mr. Martin’s trip to New York to take part in the UN General Assembly High-Level Week.
However, parliamentary party members from Dublin met to vent ‘growing frustrations’ over Fine Gael Justice Minister Helen McEntee and her handling of crime levels in the capital.
The Mail understands that the meeting was attended by deputies Jim O’Callaghan, John Lahart, Paul McAuliffe
and Senator Mary Fitzpatrick.
Speaking after the meeting, one source said: ‘There is a growing dissatisfaction about the failure of the Minister for Justice to get a grip on lawlessness in Dublin.’
Another said members will seek to meet with Ms. McEntee.
A spokesperson for Ms McEntee said the minister and Government have ‘consistently supported An Garda Síochána with funding and legislation to tackle anti-social behavior and criminality’.
Fianna Fáil Junior Minister Niall Collins brushed off concerns around low Ard Fheis registrations, saying he expected large numbers to sign up. The Minister of State for Higher Education insisted that support for the party is ‘alive and well’.
‘What I find is there is always a last-minute surge… You can register online or you can turn up and register on the day so people don’t have an urgency to register – they know the venue has plenty of capacity,’ he told the Mail