| 1.9°C Dublin

Michael Martin tries to assert control over Fianna Fail

FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin will tonight try to reassert control over his embattled party after the divisive sacking of deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv.

Mr O Cuiv last night withdrew as a candidate for one of the five vice president positions at this weekend's party Ard Fheis in Dublin.

He told party colleagues that he did not want it to be seen as a further challenge to Mr Martin's authority.

Mr O Cuiv remains an isolated figure among his fellow Fianna Fail TDs and senators over his decision to oppose the party's agreed position on the EU referendum.

But he is expected to get sympathy and support from elements of the party grassroots at the Ard Fheis in the RDS -- the same location as the count centre where most of Fianna Fail's Dublin TDs had their general election defeats confirmed last year.

A party TD said Mr O Cuiv was likely to be given a huge welcome at the Ard Fheis -- which will be officially opened by Mr Martin at 6.45pm today.

"O Cuiv is very much in touch with the grassroots, and he's close to the feeling on the ground, I'd say he'll get a rapturous reception. Look, it'll do no harm. At least it gives the Ard Fheis a bit of spice now," the TD said.

Others said Mr O Cuiv had annoyed the grassroots, and had damaged the party in advance of the Ard Fheis. One TD said he had got complaints from members yesterday that the resignation had taken the pressure off Sinn Fein over the printer cartridges scandal -- and eased the Government's discomfort over having to fight an EU referendum campaign.

Headache

Mr O Cuiv's decision to join the 'No' campaign against the EU referendum is a huge headache for Mr Martin.

The view in the party is that Mr O Cuiv's resignation is genuinely due to his dissenting views on Europe. "He's always felt the Europe he envisaged is not the Europe that's there at the moment," said one experienced TD, while another TD said Mr O Cuiv had been "absolutely upfront" about his motives.

Mr Martin replaced Mr O Cuiv yesterday at the regular Thursday morning Dail question session with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. This duty is likely to be rotated among other Fianna Fail frontbenchers for the foreseeable future.

But Mr Martin is considering abolishing the position of deputy leader, which was only created in 1994 by Bertie Ahern.

Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness, who is the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, met with Mr Martin yesterday and asked to be appointed deputy leader.

But one TD described this as a "daft" idea, and said the position should be scrapped.

A spokesman for Mr Martin would not be drawn on whether the deputy leader's position will be abolished. Mr O Cuiv admitted yesterday that one of the key reasons for opposing the EU fiscal stability treaty -- the huge debt burden on the Irish people -- was caused by the state banking guarantee and the Anglo Irish Bank nationalisation that he and other former cabinet ministers approved.

But he said that the bankers had "lied" to the previous government about their true financial situation.

If Mr Martin does appoint a new deputy leader, Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Dara Calleary is hot favourite with the bookies.

The Mayo TD has been installed at 5-6 by Paddy Power.

Irish Independent