Sunday 8 December 2019

FF tells Martin: do deal with FG or face a 'heave'

Leader insists 'no way' he will enter Government with Kenny

Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin Photo: Mark Condren
Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin Photo: Mark Condren

Philip Ryan, Niall O'Connor, Kevin Doyle

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has been told by senior party members to consider coalition with Fine Gael after the election - or face a possible leadership challenge if the party fails to achieve power, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Mr Martin's election strategy of ruling out coalition with either Fine Gael or Sinn Fein is causing major unrest within the party, with many believing the leader's position will force Fianna Fail back into opposition after the election.

There is also a growing belief that should Mr Martin fail to deliver a strong General Election result - at least 35 seats - he will be faced with a leadership "heave", especially if he does not enter coalition talks with either of the other main parties.

Fears over the fate of Mr Martin's leadership come as two separate opinion polls show Fine Gael and Labour alone will be unable to form the next government and that Fianna Fail support has marginally increased.

In today's Sunday Independent, Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness, who previously expressed support for working with Sinn Fein, now sees Fine Gael as the party's best option for forming a future government. He writes: "Fianna Fail may shortly be faced with having to find a loud voice in an opposition composed of mainly radical disparate elements, or the muscle and determination to deal with a partnership with Fine Gael in Government."

And former education minister Mary Hanafin also believes Fine Gael should be considered as a government partner but only if Sinn Fein was not to be left as the main Opposition party.

Another Fianna Fail stalwart, Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher, also dismissed Mr Martin's position by pointing out that other Fianna Fail leaders backtracked on pre-election pledges on coalitions.

Even two of Mr Martin's most loyal lieutenants - Timmy Dooley and Darragh O'Brien - yesterday said the party should be open to discussions with Fine Gael if Fianna Fail is the larger party.

Speaking ahead of his keynote address at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis in the City West Hotel in Dublin, Mr Martin again insisted there are no circumstances in which Fianna Fail would enter government talks with Fine Gael. "We have said very clearly we are not going into government with either Sinn Fein or Fine Gael," he said.

In Sinn Fein, senior strategists are relishing in Mr Martin's stance on coalitions and are now devising an election strategy which will pose the electorate with a choice between either a Fine Gael or Sinn Fein government.

A Red C poll for the Sunday Business Post shows Fine Gael 30pc (down two points); Labour 9pc (no change);Fianna Fail 19pc (up two points); Sinn Fein 19pc (no change) and Independents 15pc (up one point).

A Behaviour & Attitudes poll for the Sunday Times shows Fine Gael 31pc (no change); Fianna Fail 20pc (up one point); Labour 6pc (down two points); Sinn Fein 16pc (down one point);Independents/Others 26pc (up two points).

Sinn Fein's strategy will aim to specifically target Mr Martin's voters by presenting them with a choice of Sinn Fein in government or Fianna Fail in opposition.

"Fianna Fail is all over the place so we will be saying to their voters: 'If you want to see this Government changed you have to vote Sinn Fein as Fianna Fail have made it clear they are not going to do it'," a senior Sinn Fein strategist said.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams yesterday said Fianna Fail "is totally irrelevant to the election". The move will further marginalise Mr Martin and increase pressure on the Fianna Fail leader to set out a realistic proposal for forming a future government.

Within Fianna Fail, there is growing concern over Mr Martin's "autocratic leadership style" and his refusal to consult with party members before taking key election decisions.

The majority of members support Mr Martin's position on Sinn Fein but there is a concern that he has "boxed the party into a corner" by ruling out Fine Gael.

"By ruling out both Fine Gael and Sinn Fein, Micheal has sent a very simple message to voters: 'We don't know if we even want to be in government'," a senior Fianna Fail TD said.

"If we secure 35 seats or above, Micheal's position is safe for the time being. If he doesn't, he is in trouble," the source added.

In today's Sunday Independent, Mr McGuinness, a Fianna Fail TD for Carlow/Kilkenny, insists all politicians want power and will "walk across broken glass to get it".

"It isn't dislike that keeps parties from joining a coalition, it is self preservation. Behind all the posturing, gestures of dismissal and rhetorical flourishes, there is fear and greed - a lust for all that power can confer," he writes.

Mr McGuinness says Fianna Fail will soon be faced with the choice of being "a loud voice in an Opposition composed of mainly radical disparate elements", or decide to have the "muscle and determination" to do a deal with Fine Gael.

Mary Hanafin said she believes "Fianna Fail could work with Fine Gael" if their economic policies were adopted in a programme for government. "I think we could bring them with us on social policies which they have let slip," she added.

However, the former minister said she feared leaving Sinn Fein as the main Opposition party would not be in the best interests in the country.

Fianna Fail stalwart and General Election candidate in Donegal, Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher, said that previous leaders such as Charlie Haughey and Albert Reynolds ruled out coalition partners before going into government with them. "I believe the people will decide the formation of the next government," he told the Sunday Independent.

At the Ard Fheis, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, Tim Bale, said Mr Martin was correct to rule out a coalition with Sinn Fein. He warned that delegates need to have "realistic goals" and leading the next government was not one of them.

Fianna Fail's director of elections Billy Kelleher backed his leader's strategy and insisted the party wants to set out an alternative for the voters.

"I don't think it's credible to go into an election saying you want to replace the Government but at the same time say you are willing to support it," Mr Kelleher said.

Sunday Independent

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