There are three purposes to the average Ard Fheis (that’s national party conference to my non-Irish readers). The first, and this tends to apply to the smaller parties, is to be a democratic/administrative forum for the party. The larger parties pretend that it is, but it isn’t. The whole thing is fiddled. The second purpose is as a social gathering for the party faithful, and an opportunity for the young bucks to contest a few show internal elections. This is by far the most interesting purpose, especially if you are into drinking (Fianna Fail), tugging the forelock at your betters (Fine Gael), rigidly obeying instructions from “the committee” (Sinn Fein) or feeling hard done by (Labour).
What’s noticeable about nearly all of them is how bloody awful they look on telly. RTE give each party time, and they fill it with aspiring TDs struggling to deliver speeches that sounded clever in 1978. It’s Awful Speech Bingo time, where they vomit out warmed up stuff about community and local services and our old friend the hard working family. You’re just itching for a sniper to loose off a volley of rounds at the stage to break the tedium. Why are Irish politicians so shockingly amateurish at delivering speeches anyway? Is it to do with our inherent unwillingness to express our real opinions in public as a people? What’s worse is that the standard is now so low that any speech that doesn’t go badly, that is, the speaker doesn’t mix up his or her words or accidentally say “fanny” is now regarded as well delivered. What’s even worse is that a speech where someone says something serious about children or 1916 without f**king up is now regarded as “powerful”. Please.
If the concept is so the councillor’s granny can see him on the telly on Saturday morning, that’s fair enough. But do you ever get the impression that each Ard Fheis is based on what they did the previous year. In fact, I’d lay money that you could give Micheal Martin Enda’s pre-govt speech from 2011 and he could use 85% of it. Because This Is The Way We’ve Always Done Things.
You can’t help thinking that no one has actually given much thought to what are the values or concepts they’d like communicated to the viewers watching.