Wednesday 18 September 2019

Martin has discipline problem of his own to sort out

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin TD

Niall O'Connor

Sinn Féin will give "due consideration" to entering coalition with parties like Fianna Fáil based on their "willingness" to sign up to a "republican policy platform".

The pronouncement, made yesterday by Sinn Féin veteran Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, is the latest example of the manoeuvrings of the party that has now decided to launch a bid for power.

Mr Ó Caoláin, one of the Dáil's shrewdest and most experienced operators, told his local radio station 'Northern Sound' that Sinn Féin will build upon its current seat number of 23 after the next general election.

He also said that the configuration of the 33rd Dáil will be decided not by the politicians, but by the people.

The decision by yet another Sinn Féin politician to raise the prospect of doing business with Fianna Fáil was met with a typical sense of bemusement from the team charting Micheál Martin's desired path to the office of An Taoiseach.

"Sinn Féin is a cult and cannot be trusted," remarked one influential Fianna Fáil figure. The source pointed to the 2015 report based on MI5 intelligence which found that the Army Council still exists and influences Sinn Féin policy.

They also highlighted the alleged culture of bullying, intimidation and misogyny that has resulted in a significant number of councillors and grassroots members walking away from the Sinn Féin fold.

Others within the Fianna Fáil ranks point to the kangaroo court style of doing things, as well as Gerry Adams's association with the case of IRA murder victims such as Brian Stack.

Sources highlight the fact that Mr Adams drove Mr Stack's sons to the Border to meet a shadowy IRA figure - the identity of whom he repeatedly refused to disclose.

Then came the revelation that Mr Adams sent an email to the former Garda commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan in which he named serving members of his own party in connection with the case.

"As long as Micheál Martin is leader, Fianna Fáil will not entertain the idea (of working with Sinn Féin)," remarked another highly placed party strategist.

But if the Fianna Fáil leadership is so categorical in its denials of a post-election deal with Sinn Féin - why do others within the party continue to float the prospect?

It's a question that Mr Martin himself is asking as he prepares to address his members at today's Árd Fheis in Dublin. Mr Martin knows that only a handful of TDs within the parliamentary party believe post-election conversations with Sinn Féin should not be ruled out.

And he is aware too that Fine Gael will continue to direct its own TDs to constantly hype up the notion of a Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin arrangement.

Of course, there are those within Fianna Fáil - such as Barry Cowen, Willie O'Dea and Niall Collins - who simply could not even countenance the idea of striking a deal with Sinn Féin.

But others have taken a different stance. The latest example came from Carlow/Kilkenny TD John McGuinness the day before the Budget was announced.

He told his local radio station KCLR that it was wrong to dismiss the notion of joining forces with Mr Adams, Mary Lou McDonald and co. Less than two weeks previous, one of Mr Martin's most trusted lieutenants, Jim O'Callaghan, refused to rule out agreeing a future confidence and supply arrangement with Sinn Féin.

Three days later, the party leader once again had to deny the option was on the table. Cork TD Kevin O'Keeffe said during the summer months that "anything is possible" in relation to Sinn Féin.

Anne Rabbitte, the party's children's spokesperson, from Galway, said the expected decision by Mr Adams to step down as leader could be a "game changer".

While Fingal TD Darragh O'Brien, Roscommon deputy Eugene Murphy and Kerry TD John Brassil have all expressed views that are out of sync with the leadership's public position.

Last night, we saw yet another denial from Mr Martin about a possible deal being brokered.

How long until the next deputy leaves the door open once more? Mr Martin's inability to instil order among his wider party raises major questions about his leadership.

Sinn Féin may have a discipline problem in relation to bullying and the mistreatment of its members, but Fianna Fáil has a discipline problem of its own.

Irish Independent

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