Saturday 24 March 2018

Leadership vote reform to put Martin under threat from grassroots revolt

Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin outside Leinster House yesterday
Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin outside Leinster House yesterday
Eamon O Cuiv has been vocal in his criticisms of the party
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Michael Martin's leadership is likely to come under further threat if the party votes in favour of new rules to give the wider membership a vote on who leads Fianna Fáil.

The party will vote on proposals to extend voting rights in Fianna Fáil leadership contests to all members at its ard fheis in Dublin at the end of the month.

The new voting arrangements - which were proposed by Mr Martin two years ago - mean for the first time senators, councillors and grassroots members will have a say on who leads the party.

Under the current rules, only sitting TDs can vote in leadership battles, which at present means just 20 votes decides the leadership of what was once the country's largest party.

The new system will consist of three electoral colleges with each having a different weighted vote and it is understood grassroots members will have less of a say than sitting TDs.

The growing level of discontent among ordinary Fianna Fáil members over the constant in-fighting within the parliamentary party could result in a grassroots revolt against Mr Martin.

Despite internal rumblings over poll results, there is little threat to Mr Martin's leadership under the current electoral system as those speaking out against him are unlikely to drum up enough support to mount a challenge.

Kilkenny TD and Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness has openly challenged Mr Martin, but would struggle to get seconded for a leadership contest, according to party sources.

Éamon Ó Cuív, whose grandfather Eamon De Valera was a founding member of the party, has also been vocal in his criticisms of the party and the direction it is taking ahead of the next general election.

Mr Ó Cuív, who is popular among the grassroots, would not have support in the parliamentary party to oppose Mr Martin.

In 2013, ahead of the Fianna Fáil ard fheis, Mr Martin first mentioned the idea of increasing the size of the electorate.

"We're looking at an electoral college whereby obviously the parliamentary party would have a significant impact, but (so would) members of the European Parliament, senators and so on," he said at the time.

He established a commission made up of representatives of different sections of the party who were tasked with examining the best options available before bringing a proposal before the membership.

Fianna Fáil yesterday said the proposals were not voted on at last year's ard fheis because it was a "non-voting year".

Party sources believe the membership will vote overwhelmingly in favour of the wider electorate system.

The party will also vote for five new Fianna Fáil vice-presidents from seven candidates, who include Mr Ó Cuív, Clare TD Timmy Dooley and Senator Mary White.

Also in the running are councillors Mary Hanafin, Arthur Griffin and Lisa Chambers. Former Fianna Fáil TD and party stalwart Donnie Cassidy is also a candidate.

Two vice-presidents must come from inside the parliamentary party and two from outside, and the fifth can come from either.

A gender quota requires a female in both categories, meaning Ms White is guaranteed a position, leaving Mr Ó Cuív and Mr Dooley to fight for the last two positions.

Irish Independent

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