John McGuinness to Micheal Martin: I want your job, I wanna be the leader
Mr McGuinness dropped the bombshell to Mr Martin during a meeting after the Fianna Fail leader asked him if he would be interested in running as a candidate in the European elections, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
But Mr McGuinness turned down the invitation, telling Mr Martin his real interest was "in the FF leadership''.
The FF leader made the suggestion after internal polls "showed McGuinness streaking away with it were he to run in the Euros''.
However, Mr McGuinness instead told Mr Martin he was not going because "if I am in Europe I can't contest the leadership".
A senior party source told the Sunday Independent: "Micheal nearly fell off his chair at the response, he wasn't expecting that, a paler shade of white might best describe it."
Mr Martin has come under fire recently from former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former minister Mary Hanafin over the party's "brutal'' performance in Dublin, though the opposition leader has publicly insisted his leadership is "safe".
However, senior figures within the party tell a different story. One noted: "Micheal is accumulating enemies. There are issues with the old guard, there is unfinished business with Eamon O Cuiv, the finance spokesman Michael McGrath is not his friend."
In a chilly analysis, one party frontbencher said: "It all hangs on the Dublin election; it would become very difficult if Fianna Fail came in behind Eamon Ryan or Nessa Childers."
Another senior figure said: "In the council elections the threshold of safety for Micheal is around 28 per cent and three MEPs, anything else would lead to a long, hot summer."
Today's Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll findings – which show FF's Mary Fitzpatrick struggling in a four-way battle royale to claim the final European seat in Dublin – will heap further pressure on Mr Martin.
Mr McGuinness could not be contacted for comment last night. But sources close to the high-profile PAC chairman said: "Previously John had a reputation for being somewhat aloof, but he has certainly been putting himself about much more with the party membership."
Another Fianna Fail TD added: "John is making no secret of his interest, nobody is bad-mouthing Micheal but he is fatally attached to the past; the feeling is that so long as he is there we cannot move on to greener fields."
Intriguingly, Mr McGuinness has chaired numerous FF selection conventions for the new Euro and local election candidates. "He's been getting a rapturous response, standing ovations, people are tired of Micheal's milk-and-water Fianna Fail sounding like Fine Gael," a source said.
One McGuinness supporter said: "Eamon O Cuiv could be the stalking horse that will force the issue. The younger breed will vote for McGuinness on the basis that, like Albert Reynolds back then, he is not going to be around for a long time."