FF figures say party 'not ready' for return to power
Fianna Fáil is privately preparing for a second consecutive term in opposition for the first time in the party's history, the Irish Independent can reveal.
As Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin faces an unprecedented morale crisis, influential figures within the party insist their main objective is to finish ahead of Sinn Féin in the next General Election.
The latest opinion poll results, which show Fianna Fáil's support unchanged, illustrate the party's struggle to resonate with voters just three weeks before its annual Ard Fheis takes place in Dublin.
Several Fianna Fáil sources, including strategists and frontbench TDs, are privately conceding that a second consecutive term in opposition is on the cards unless it sees a major bounce in the polls.
When such a prediction was made in September by Mary Hanafin, senior party figures slated the comments by the former minister. But now those involved in devising the party's electoral strategy say they are anticipating another term in opposition.
The party is hamstrung in terms of coalition options because it is ruling out the prospect of being a minority partner in government.
Strategists believe entering coalition with Fine Gael as the smaller party would spell the end of Fianna Fáil. And the prospect of doing a deal with Sinn Féin is seen as "absolutely toxic".
A number of motions are set to be voted upon at the Ard Fheis which will insist that the party can only go into government if it is a majority partner.
Therefore, individuals at the highest level of the party say its realistic goal is to return within the region of 35-40 seats and become a strong force in opposition.
"There are genuine fears that we would face demise if we were a minority partner of a Fine Gael-led government," said one senior source.
Another strategist said the party was preparing to fend off an attack from Sinn Féin in the upcoming campaign.
"Sinn Féin is our big threat because we know they are going to target us. We must reverse our positions in the polls and finish ahead."
But the revelation that the party is not preparing for government pours cold water on previous comments by Mr Martin that he is preparing to become Taoiseach.
The remarks, made at the party's think-in, raised eyebrows within Fianna Fáil.
Mr Martin said it's what any party leader would do, adding that the outcome would be one for voters to decide.
Meanwhile, Senator Averil Power last night claimed the election hopes of all Fianna Fáil candidates were being "undermined" by the squabbling within the parliamentary party.
She was referring to rebel TDs Éamon Ó Cuív and Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness who have been highly critical of the party hierarchy in recent days.
"The constant criticism of Micheál Martin isn't just undermining him, its undermining me and everyone trying to win Dáil seats for the party," she told the Irish Independent.
Mr Martin held a meeting with Mr Ó Cuív last week after he claimed the party's morale was "on the floor".
Mr McGuinness has also hit out at the running of the party in recent times.
He said he won't be told to "shut up or put out" and added that he was entitled to air his grievances.
Members of the parliamentary party have been urged in future to air their concerns in private instead of in the media.