Saturday 24 August 2019

Fianna Fáil won't unseat Martin - even if he fails to win by-election

Micheál Martin
Micheál Martin
Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher

Niall O'Connor

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin won't be overthrown as party leader - even if loses next month's by-election.

Senior party sources insist the two potential challengers to Mr Martin - rebel TDs Éamon Ó Cuív and John McGuinness - do not have the necessary support to mount a leadership bid.

Party rules require any challenger to obtain five signatures from fellow members of the parliamentary party and provide five days' notice to the incumbent before a formal leadership vote can be forced.

Sources close to Mr Martin have privately tested the appetite for a change of leader in recent weeks and are convinced a heave is not on the cards, even if candidate Bobby Aylward is defeated in the Carlow/Kilkenny by-election.

Aside from the two rebel TDs, the party hierarchy is certain that other prominent front bench spokespeople are not interested in taking over the leadership at present.


Sources say the party's finance spokesperson, Michael McGrath, fears a backlash in his own constituency if he launched a heave before the election.

Cork South Central, which is represented by both Mr Martin and Mr McGrath, is being reduced from a five-seat constituency to a four-seat one.

One election strategist within the party said Mr Martin would receive sympathy if his position was challenged by his constituency colleague just months ahead of the election.

"McGrath, of course, harbours leadership ambitions because he's consistently being touted as a successor.

"But he would not do anything that jeopardises his seat," the source told the Irish Independent.

Mr McGrath has repeatedly said in recent weeks that Mr Martin's leadership will not be up for question if Fianna Fáil is defeated in the by-election.

If the Fianna Fáil candidate is defeated, it will be the seventh consecutive by-election loss for Mr Martin and will put his leadership under more pressure.

After days of squabbling within the party, Mr Martin is determined to ensure the issue of internal divisions is dealt with in private and away from the media spotlight.

Both Mr Ó Cuív and Mr McGuinness have been told to stop airing their grievances in public so that the party can focus on selling its policies to voters without such a damaging distraction.

Nonetheless, sources at advisory and front bench level have conceded the leadership faces a major challenge in order to lift morale both within the parliamentary party and at grassroots level. Some TDs have privately protested in recent weeks about Mr Martin's failure to reshuffle the party's front bench around the same time as the Cabinet reshuffle last July.

Mr Martin partially changed the makeup of his bench in July 2012, but has not done so since.

Others within the party claim Mr Martin's decision not to appoint a new deputy leader - over three years after Mr Ó Cuív resigned in protest over the party's support for the Fiscal Treaty - is illustrative of his reluctance to trust some of his colleagues.

Meanwhile, sources close to veteran party figure Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher say the former MEP will only run in the general election if he is asked to do so by Mr Martin.

The Irish Independent reported last week that Mr Gallagher was being asked by his supporters to mount a challenge - just months after losing his seat in the European Parliament.


But sources say Mr Gallagher is unhappy with the level of contact from Mr Martin in recent months.

The pair have not spoken since Mr Gallagher's defeat, which his supporters have blamed on the decision to run senator Thomas Byrne as his running mate.

"The Cope has never turned down an offer to run by any leader, but the leadership needs to make the approach," said a source close to Mr Gallagher.

How Fianna Fáil’s top team rates

Evaluated by John  Downing


Micheál Martin: 4

Party leader and spokesman on Northern Ireland. Works extremely hard and usually outshines Taoiseach in Dáil. But failed to motivate Dáil and Seanad team to galvanise membership. Above all, failed to connect with the general public at a time when the Government has been epically unpopular.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl: 3

Hard-working and understated but nationally anonymous. Responsible for arts, culture and defence issues. Did land some punches on Arts Minister Heather Humphreys in last year's cronyism controversy.

Willie O'Dea: 4

Limerick street-fighter is a rare flash of colour among a lacklustre group. But he is obsessed with his constituency and should devote more attention to national matters. Has notably failed to land any real punches on Social Protection Minister Joan Burton in an area in which Labour is always vulnerable.

Barry Cowen: 3

The environment spokesman's stance epitomises Fianna Fáil's inbuilt difficulty. As the authors of water charges in government in 2010, the party is now strangely against these kind of water charges - not here and not now. This comes alongside the harebrained idea of refurbishing the entire water system and then, eventually, levying charges. Has yet to make an impact addressing the growing housing crisis.

Billy Kelleher: 4

Health spokesman who did most to upend Dr James Reilly as minister and briefly helped lift his party's fortunes in opinion polls. But has failed to pin down current minister, Leo Varadkar. Has yet to deliver major costed policy document on the one area in which governments are always extremely vulnerable.

Brendan Smith: 1

As a former minister, he is almost totally anonymous nationally. Little impact in foreign affairs, trade and border policy issues.

Charlie McConalogue: 1

Has made no real impact as education spokesman. This is always a sticky issue for Government and he could make hay.

Dara Calleary: 5

Had a good impact making case on emigration, long-term unemployment and shortcomings in youth training. But has fewer strong arguments as unemployment continues to fall. Needs to re-think how to land badly needed punches.

John McGuinness: 4

As Public Accounts Committee chairman he has a good national profile and in this way has done the party some service. But as small business spokesman he has not produced a small business policy, thereby neglecting the traditional Fianna Fáil heartland. Small business people are also the group most likely to turn out after the elderly voters. And his very public criticisms have not helped the leader.

Michael Kitt: 4

Duties as Leas Ceann Comhairle have clearly taken up a lot of his time, to the detriment of his responsibilities in relation to planning and housing. But in the midst of a housing crisis he could try to pin down Government a good deal more.

Star Man - Michael McGrath: 7

Effective performer who knows his brief as finance spokesman and has shown good judgment. He has continually championed the cause of up to 300,000 people in mortgage arrears. However, he would be more effective if he could display some more vulgar enthusiasm.

Michael Moynihan: 1

Very experienced and assiduous constituency performer. Largely anonymous in his role as communications and energy spokesman.

Niall Collins: 4

As justice spokesman he has done well at times. But this policy area is always difficult for Government - even in good times. Needs far more effort and preparation.

Robert Troy: 5

Has the distinction of being the only member of the front bench to deliver a comprehensive policy document in his area of responsibility, which is childcare. 'Investing in Tomorrow' sketches reform of early childhood care and education, including extending maternity leave.

Sean Fleming: 5

Well-informed and hardworking on his area of public expenditure. Sometimes lacks the necessary aggression to land big punches on the Coalition in an area in which most governments are often vulnerable.

Timmy Dooley: 3

Relied upon by party leader to fire-fight on internal issues. Limited impact on transport, always a tricky Government policy area, as well as tourism and sport.

Séamus Kirk: 4

Understandably low-key as horticulture and rural affairs spokesman. Lobbied well on the future of Coillte. After a distinguished career as a constituency TD, and also a former Ceann Comhairle and junior minister, he will celebrate his 70th birthday later this month, and will not contest the next election.

Éamon Ó Cuív: 5

Perhaps the most underrated politician at Leinster House, he is at home as agriculture and community affairs spokesman. Is a credible voice on regional development. Criticisms of party leader Micheál Martin have been very unhelpful.

Colm Keaveney: 4

Having abandoned Labour, joined Fianna Fáil in 2013. Steady as spokesman on mental health.

John Browne

Spokesperson on fisheries and marine has been on leave due to illness.

Total: 71/190

Irish Independent

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