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Raft of Fianna Fáil TDs disagree with Éamon Ó Cuív's call to change leader

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Divided: Éamon Ó Cuív believes Micheál Martin needs to be replaced as Fianna Fáil leader following a recent opinion poll. PHOTO: SAM BOAL/ROLLINGNEWS.IE

Divided: Éamon Ó Cuív believes Micheál Martin needs to be replaced as Fianna Fáil leader following a recent opinion poll. PHOTO: SAM BOAL/ROLLINGNEWS.IE

Divided: Éamon Ó Cuív believes Micheál Martin needs to be replaced as Fianna Fáil leader following a recent opinion poll. PHOTO: SAM BOAL/ROLLINGNEWS.IE

Fianna Fáil TD Jim O'Callaghan has warned now is not the time to change leader after a party grandee called for Taoiseach Micheál Martin to be replaced.

Veteran TD Éamon Ó Cuív said Fianna Fáil needed a new leader after the party hit a record low rating of 10pc in a weekend opinion poll.

There was a mixed reaction to Mr Ó Cuív's intervention yesterday, with some Fianna Fáil ministers strongly criticising his comments as unhelpful in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the Brexit trade talks.

Mr O'Callaghan, who is considered one of the frontrunners to succeed Mr Martin and has been critical of his leader's decision-making in recent weeks, told the Irish Independent last night: "I always listen closely to Éamon Ó Cuív, he has a very good understanding of the public and the Fianna Fáil organisation.

"However, I don't agree that now is the time to change our leader. Our focus now should be on coherently communicating the Covid-19 plan and preparing for the Budget that will be announced in early October."

Mr Ó Cuív told RTÉ Radio One's Today with Claire Byrne there was an "existential" threat to the party after the Red C/Business Post poll.

"I do think we need a new leader," he said. Asked who he thought it should be, he said: "I haven't a clue." But he added that the party needed a new direction.

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Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne. Photo: Arthur Carron

Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne. Photo: Arthur Carron

Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne. Photo: Arthur Carron

Europe Minister Thomas Byrne said Mr Ó Cuív's intervention was a distraction and unnecessary. He said: "The Taoiseach needs to be able to focus on Brexit, Covid-19 and the Budget."

Another junior minister, Mary Butler, said: "In the context of the pandemic and the challenges facing the country at present, I was disappointed in Éamon's comments. Now is the time for all members of the parliamentary party to put their shoulder to the wheel and be as constructive as ­possible."

Disabilities Minister Anne Rabbitte said: "It's not helpful when we're facing into Brexit, when we've got a roadmap for Covid. Stability is what is required. His commentary is not helpful."

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Anne Rabbitte TD. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Anne Rabbitte TD. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Anne Rabbitte TD. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Another minister privately said Mr Ó Cuív's intervention on a day of major announcements around Covid-19 was "unhelpful". They added: "A leadership battle and possible general election is not what the country needs right now."

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry, who was reported to have strongly criticised Mr Martin at a private parliamentary party meeting last week, said: "There are some matters that leaked out last week, but these are internal matters to be dealt with and hopefully they can be. I understand where Éamon is coming from and the frustration which drives his ­opinion."

Some TDs privately agreed with Mr Ó Cuív, with one veteran deputy saying: "The problem is the party is heading for oblivion, you'd know it from going around speaking to people and people talking to us from two metres away.

"That's the general view, that we are heading for disaster. Your man (Mr Martin) is not popular, people have not taken to him as Taoiseach. Fianna Fáil have no identity in government. If allowed to continue indefinitely it (the party) will disappear."

One TD said Mr Martin "has to go", claimed he is doing "very poorly" and that his performance when announcing the Government's Covid-19 plan yesterday morning is another example of that.

However, the TD said the situation was "too unstable" to change leadership now. They suggested there should be no challenge to Mr Martin's leadership until after Brexit takes place, while adding: "If there's more polls like we had on Sunday, his position will become untenable."

Another TD said there would be some support for Mr Ó Cuív's view because there were "disaffected people in the party". However, they added that the focus must be delivering the Programme for Government and said: "I don't think the public would appreciate us navel-gazing as a party."

Another TD privately suggested that Mr Ó Cuív's comments were motivated by old tensions with the Taoiseach. "They haven't seen eye to eye since he took over as leader in 2011. I'd prefer if he would let the man get on with the job," they said.

Fianna Fáil backbencher, Cork South-West TD Christopher O'Sullivan, said he was focused on doing his work and not paying attention to the critics.

"I've only been around the parliamentary party since February and since then it's always the same two or three names coming out criticising or opposing, so from that point of view, I don't really pay much attention to it," he said.

Dublin North-West TD Paul McAuliffe said of Mr Ó Cuív's remarks: "I think what he is saying is the party needs to establish its core message for people we want to attract. I don't disagree with any of it, to be fair."

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Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe pictured after he was elected in Dublin North West constituency. Photo: Frank McGrath

Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe pictured after he was elected in Dublin North West constituency. Photo: Frank McGrath

Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe pictured after he was elected in Dublin North West constituency. Photo: Frank McGrath

Mr McAuliffe said he did not agree with changing the leadership of the party at this time.

"No-one else is coming to save Fianna Fáil, it will be up to us to rise to the challenge," he added.

"We've just elected a Taoiseach, is anyone seriously suggesting we need to change him now? We are in the position to change policy now, let's get on with it. It's time we get down to the job of actually governing the country. I'd be saying to people, 'get on with it'."

Asked about Mr Ó Cuív's call for a new Fianna Fáil leader, the Taoiseach said "this is about the nation", referring to the new Covid-19 plan that he launched yesterday.

Irish Independent