Tuesday 19 September 2017

Martin left wounded as FF split on Aras bid

- O Cuiv threat to quit at angry meeting
- Leader forced to delay key decision

Fionnan Sheahan and Fiach Kelly

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin's authority was seriously undermined last night after bitter divisions emerged within the party over the presidential campaign.

At one point during an acrimonious six-hour meeting, deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv threatened to resign, as the party was riven with dissent over whether to nominate independent candidates.

A decision on the approach to the election and whether to nominate Fianna Fail senator Labhras O Murchu as an Independent had to be postponed until next week.

This followed a rowdy party meeting -- described as "utter f***ing chaos" -- failed to reach agreement.

Mr Martin failed to secure backing for his own proposal for the party to not nominate any candidates for the presidency -- and was forced to postpone it to next week.

But his motion resulted in a spat between those supporting Mr O Murchu's position and those on Mr Martin's side.

At one stage, Mr O Cuiv -- once tipped as a potential presidential candidate -- told the meeting he could not support the approach being put forward by Mr Martin and would find it difficult to stay as deputy leader if it was voted on.

Following the botched approach to Gay Byrne and the bitter withdrawal of Brian Crowley from the race, the latest development is a further serious setback for Mr Martin.

A party TD said: "Martin's damaged by all of this. The parliamentary party is split 50:50."

"There was consternation in the room. Everybody started saying: 'Come back Eamon, we love you' and stuff like that," a TD said.

Party members said Mr O Cuiv got "stroppy" but it wasn't a serious threat and just the former cabinet minister "playing to the gallery".

After emerging from the marathon debate, a beleaguered TD said it had descended into a "complete bitchfest".

"The whole thing is a f***ing disaster. It was a bitter enough meeting. The atmosphere wasn't the best," a senior party TD said.

Mr O Murchu threatened to press on with his candidacy no matter what the party determined last night. But he ultimately backed down and said he would wait until the decision of next Tuesday's meeting, which he would abide by and respect. The absence of eight TDs and senators was regarded a "factor" in the decision to postpone, a source said.

When contacted last night about his behaviour at the meeting, Mr O Cuiv declined to comment.

"I do not discuss what happens at parliamentary party meetings," he said.

Mr O Murchu said he had the support of six Independent TDs and senators and expected to secure another four signatures for his nomination.

He said the meeting was a "good, comprehensive debate". But he saw no contradiction in a Fianna Fail senator running as an Independent after the party had decided not to contest the election.

"I am not looking for an endorsement from the party. I think people should be helped to get into the race," he said.

After the first four hours of the meeting, Mr Martin left the room with Mr O Cuiv, party whip Sean O Fearghail and parliamentary party chairman John Browne, with the intention of coming up with a solution.

Side room

However, the four could not agree and Mr Martin went into a side room with two advisers. He then returned to the party room with a party room for Fianna Fail not to nominate any candidate, which lead Mr O Cuiv to rear up.

The issue has now been kicked to touch until next Tuesday and party TDs and senators will consult with grassroots members and councillors over the weekend.

The development throws the presidential election ticket wide open as Fianna Fail could help several candidates, including Mr O Murchu, Dana Rosemary Scallon and Independent Senator David Norris to get across the line.

Candidates need a nomination from 20 TDs and Senators, while Fianna Fail have 33 Oireachtas members making the party the kingmakers for any independent candidate.

Sinn Fein is expected to unveil its candidate today after the party's ruling body, the Ard Comhairle, meets in Dublin. The party was due to unveil its candidate by the weekend but appears to have brought the announcement forward.

Among the names being speculated about are Martin McGuinness, Caoimhghin O Caolain, Michelle Gildernew and Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte.

Mr Norris is due on the 'Late Late Show' tonight to outline his position. He approached Independent TDs yesterday to seek support in his renewed quest for a nomination. But he seems to only have the support of seven TDs and senators so far, with others waiting to see how his re-launch pans out.

Irish Independent

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