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Martin must win by-election or face losing support from Fianna Fáil party members

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Micheal Martin

Micheal Martin

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Micheal Martin

FIANNA Fáil leader Micheál Martin is facing a backbench revolt if he fails to win the upcoming Carlow Kilkenny by-election.

Several TDs yesterday insisted Mr Martin must land another Dáil seat for Fianna Fáil to regain the party's confidence in his leadership.

However, the make-or-break election will be an uphill challenge for Mr Martin with the party failing to make any gains in the polls. The lack of voter confidence was illustrated in a poll yesterday which showed Fianna Fáil slumping to just 17pc - the same percentage it polled in its disastrous 2011 General Election campaign.

The survey found support for Fianna Fáil was especially low in Dublin - where the party has no TDs - and Mr Martin's personal satisfaction rating also dropped to 24pc, making him the country's least popular party leader.

And adding to Mr Martin's troubles, Wexford Senator Jim Walsh quit the parliamentary party over Fianna Fáil's push for a 'Yes' vote in the Marriage Equality referendum.

With public confidence plummeting, party members concede that it is imperative the party wins the by-election in Carlow-Kilkenny on May 22.

One deputy said they must address the question of whether Mr Martin (pictured inset) can continue as leader if they fail to win their seventh by-election since the last general election.

"There is no appetite for a change of leadership. But if we cannot show some traction before the summer, the issue will have to be broached," the deputy said.

Mr Martin has failed to win any of the six by-elections held - and in three cases lost out to Government candidates.

The Fianna Fáil candidate for the Carlow Kilkenny by-election Bobby Alyward stands a good chance, but will face tough competition from Fine Gael's David Fitzgerald and Sinn Féin's Kathleen Funchion.

Members disillusioned by the party's poor performance were reluctant to speak out yesterday, fearing a backlash from the party hierarchy.

However, privately they expressed serious concern with Mr Martin's stewardship of the party and his failure to drag Fianna Fáil back from the abyss after its dismal performance in the 2011 election.

One TD said the continual opinion poll slump was "very demoralising" for party activists and it would be extremely difficult to motivate members to canvass in the next general election.

The deputy questioned whether the party should have opted for "responsible opposition" after the last general election.

"For example, opposition to the water charges is a big public theme. Some members are asking me: 'Why can't we see Fianna Fáil banners on those marches?' We don't have a clear message on the economy; that is a major problem," the Fianna Fáil TD said.

Health spokesman Billy Kelleher conceded that Fianna Fáil's current position in the polls was "disappointing" and created challenges for the party.

"But we are currently working on a number of policy areas and we will be presenting them to the public in the next few weeks. There is an awful lot of work to be done, but we will meet the challenge," he said.

Fianna Fáil director of elections Michael Moynihan also admitted the party had to work harder, but insisted there was no panic about the poll results.

Mr Moynihan also said he was "disappointed" with party members who publicly spoke out about the leadership in recent weeks.

"We can kneejerk every time there is a poll or we can get on with working to get votes," he added.

Laois Offaly TD Sean Fleming said the party would be more successful if the entire team worked as hard as Mr Martin.

Irish Independent