FIANNA Fail is facing a fresh crisis after former minister Mary Hanafin claimed that members of its frontbench are totally anonymous.
The newly elected councillor has heaped pressure on leader Micheal Martin to shake up the party, saying she can't even name some of his top politicians.
"If I can't name who they are, the public definitely can't," she said in a hard-hitting interview with the Irish Independent.
Ms Hanafin, who annoyed the party hierarchy by running in the local elections, believes that Fianna Fail will "absolutely not" be back in government after the 2016 election because "the public are not ready".
And she says that her own election to Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council disproves the theory that the 'old guard' who were in power at the time of the economic collapse should not be candidates in that election.
"Some of the frontbench people have said 'oh no, we don't want people from the past or anything'. Well maybe they'll realise now that the party is bigger than any of them," she said.
Her comments are likely to cause huge discomfort for Micheal Martin, with whom she sat at the Cabinet table for nine years.
As Fianna Fail prepares for its annual think-in, it is locked in a bitter battle with Sinn Fein to be the second biggest party after Fine Gael.
Although Ms Hanafin praises Mr Martin's "huge effort", his party has rarely faced such stern internal criticism.
"I think the frontbench perhaps haven't given the same effort he has," she said.
While insisting that some frontbench members are doing an “exceptional job”, she said others are too concerned about their seats. The current frontbench includes names such as Billy Kelleher, Barry Cowen, Niall Collins and Timmy Dooley but Ms Hanafin refused to single out individuals.
“They need to realise that as frontbench members, they are not there to look after their own seats, they are there to promote policy and increase the number of seats. While some of them are doing very well, and I know they’ll be screaming ‘who is she to criticise us’, but if I can’t name who they are, the public definitely can’t,” she said.
And she hit out at those within the party who do not believe that ‘old guard’ ministers who were in government when the economy collapsed should be allowed back into the public spotlight.
“It’s not about 19-20 people in Leinster House, it’s much bigger, it’s the people who support us across the country,” she added.
Ms Hanafin made the remarks just days before the party meets in Roscommon for its annual think-in on the eve of the new Dail term. Despite numerous reports of TDs being dissatisfied with Micheal Martin’s leadership, Ms Hanafin said her former cabinet colleague “has put in a huge effort” in building up the party since its disastrous election defeat.
But she said that she does believe the public are ready to return Fianna Fail to power at the next general election.
“The next election won’t see Fianna Fail getting back into power, absolutely not. The public aren’t ready for it and the party doesn’t have enough candidates to do it. Personally I see Fianna Fail, strengthening and at least doubling its seats… it’s only then people will be able to be reassured at what Fianna Fail stands for,” she said.
Ms Hanafin shocked members of the Fianna Fail party in May after it emerged she had decided to contest the local elections in the Blackrock ward.
As revealed at the time, Ms Hanafin submitted her nomination papers after being approached by party general secretary Sean Dorgan who convinced her to run.
But after a backlash from party figures, including the campaign team of her running mate Kate Feeney, the party tried to pull the plug on her election bid.
Ms Hanafin refused and was comfortably elected on the first count – securing the second highest percentage vote of any Fianna Fail local election candidate in Dublin.
Asked about the party’s handling of her election bid, Ms Hanafin told the Irish Independent: “It was a disaster, it shouldn’t have happened. It was treating candidates very badly. “
Ms Hanafin said she has a “working relationship” with Kate Feeney, adding that the pair sit beside each other in the council chamber.
It now seems likely that she will run for the Dail in the next general election.
She said she is considering a run but added that she is in no means “over confident or cocky” in relation to her chances. “It’s something I’d like to have a shot at again and just to see if that good will materialise,” she said.