Senior Fianna Fáil TD Jim O'Callaghan has opened the door to government talks with Sinn Féin, saying his party was "maybe too definitive" in ruling it out during the election.
His comments come amid growing disquiet in Fianna Fáil over Micheál Martin's leadership, which several senior TDs have privately criticised in recent days, one saying "his days are numbered".
Allies of Mr Martin criticised Mr O'Callaghan's intervention last night, saying it had hampered the party's efforts to form a government with Fine Gael and the Green Party.
The party's justice spokesman, who has been touted by some as a future Fianna Fáil leader, told RTÉ yesterday he was "not ruling in or out anything" when asked about the possibility of forming a national government involving Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and other parties to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
"I think we need a government quickly. If it's a national government I'd go along with that," he told 'The Week in Politics'.
He was responding to a proposal put forward at the weekend by Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart. A similar proposition was previously suggested by backbench TD John McGuinness.
Asked if Fianna Fáil was still ruling out Sinn Féin, Mr O'Callaghan told RTÉ: "We said before the last election that we wouldn't go in with Sinn Féin, maybe we were too definitive about that, but we said it. We said the same about Fine Gael. However, I think we all need to get together to try to establish a government. Fianna Fáil is doing that."
Mr O'Callaghan later told the Irish Independent: "Our position in respect of Sinn Féin has not changed. However, if there was a national government to be proposed involving all parties, I would have no difficulty with Fianna Fáil playing its part in forming such a government."
Sources close to Micheál Martin ruled out a national government and said Fianna Fáil remained opposed to talks with Sinn Féin.
Mr O'Callaghan's intervention came after Mr Martin's hardline opposition to Sinn Féin was criticised by some TDs at the parliamentary party meeting last Thursday. The Dublin Bay South TD yesterday denied he was positioning himself as a successor to Mr Martin. "No one has come to me asking me to oust Micheál," he said.
A senior Fianna Fáil TD said it would be "naive" to think the comments were unconnected to talk of the leadership and said they were unhelpful. "I don't think raising a leadership issue or seeking to reopen the door to Sinn Féin is in the interests of the party," the TD said.
But four other senior Fianna Fáil TDs questioned the future of Mr Martin who confirmed last week that he wants to form a government with Fine Gael.
"Micheál's interview on Sean O'Rourke made some people very, very uncomfortable. It's going to be very difficult to get a deal through the ard fheis," said one senior TD. "You could argue the longer it goes on the more his position is imperilled. People are edgy."
A second senior TD said Mr Martin had been "damaged" by the election and his statements ruling out Sinn Féin and Fine Gael.
"There may be issues that will arise if you fast-forward six weeks and Leo Varadkar says he wants to stay on as Taoiseach for the first two years. That could be an issue," they said. "It's a dangerous time for Fianna Fáil. We need to be careful about the next move and that we don't divide because that's what Fine Gael and Sinn Féin want."
A third senior TD said that if Mr Martin is unable to form a government "then we've a new situation".
A fourth senior TD said that Mr Martin's "standing has diminished within the grassroots in the party".
"There isn't a single member of the parliamentary party that thinks Micheál Martin is going to lead us into the next election. His days are numbered," they added.