Fianna Fáil faithful gather to discuss matters from Palestine to potholes at ardfheis

European election candidates - including the ‘Billy Barry kids’ - take coffee with supporters ahead of tough battle

An observer described it as the two Barrys and a Billy show – or the Billy Barry kids, referring to the first matter on the agenda today at the Fianna Fáil ardfheis.

It was coffee with the party’s European election candidates – Barry Cowen (Midlands), sitting MEPs Barry Andrews (Dublin) and Billy Kelleher (Ireland South). Cynthia Ní Mhurchú (Ireland South) had arrived in election car festooned with her photo. Midlands North-West candidates Senators Lisa Chambers and Niall Blaney are also among the party’s six European election candidates.

Fianna Fáil members were enticed to meet the candidates with free coffee, tea and a scone. Behind them on the wall a large banner read “Europe Matters”, an appeal to voters to consider their European election vote as carefully as they would their general and local election candidates.

Taoiseach Simon Harris has said he is proud of the decision to hand the Minister of State responsibility for the Gaeltacht to Fianna Fáil. Mr Harris acknowledged that his Irish is not good but he plans to take classes. Asked what she thought of his ambition, native Irish speaker Ms Ní Mhurchú said “feicimid”.

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Coffee with the candidates is part of the ardfheis focus on the European elections where the party has the potential to claim a win. The choice of Dublin as the location is very much geared towards sitting MEP Barry Andrews, who will be in a dogfight to retain his seat in the capital.

Billy Kelleher should be expected to hold his seat. And in Midlands North-West, having Barry Cowen on the ticket should give the party its first seat in that constituency for a decade.

Getting three MEPs elected would be portrayed as a win, although there are slim hopes that Ms Chambers or Mr Blaney in Midlands North West or Ms Ní Mhurchú in South could pull a rabbit out of a hat.

The schedule features ministers highlighting all the party’s main policy areas: building more homes; safer streets; rural Ireland; financial stability; the disability sector, Northern Ireland and foreign affairs with a plethora of motions on Gaza.

Climate change is part of the first debate along with transport but there are no motions on climate change.

The first motion is on potholes, asking the Government to call on the local authorities to “urgently address the pot holes that are on the non-national road both urban and rural across all counties”.

By the time party president Micheál Martin stands up to give his keynote speech, the highlight of the ardfheis, at least 1,500 party faithful are expected to be in place.

The ardfheis sets the scene for the elections and Mr Martin is expected to rally members to support and canvass for their candidates including those at the local elections.

Fianna Fáil in the 2019 elections gained 12 seats to be the party with the largest number of seats at 279. But it will be hard-pressed to repeat that performance now, especially given the reality that Sinn Féin – which lost half its 160 seats in 2019 – will double its tally, and then some.

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