Sunday 25 August 2019

WhatsApp spat shows Fianna Fáil was on edge over Micheál Martin's approach to justice controversy

Seán Dorgan (centre), general secretary of the Fianna Fáil party, with Pat McParland, head of communications and deputy general secretary, and Deirdre Gillane, adviser to Micheál Martin. Photo: Tom Burke
Seán Dorgan (centre), general secretary of the Fianna Fáil party, with Pat McParland, head of communications and deputy general secretary, and Deirdre Gillane, adviser to Micheál Martin. Photo: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor

For the Soldiers of Destiny, it was all proving a bit too much. While a small number of Fianna Fáil TDs were gunning for a Christmas election over the weekend, others wanted anything but.

The nerves were especially acute among the class of February 2017 - the young, inexperienced, first-time deputies who are still learnings the ropes at Leinster House.

But like in any growing party, tensions are always simmering below the surface - particularly when the sniff of power passes by.

So where better to air your views on the momentous decision facing Micheál Martin than an internal party WhatsApp group entitled 'FF PP', leaked to the Irish Independent.

In one late-night message, Dublin Fingal TD Darragh O'Brien questioned the party's approach.

"I've never commented on this forum but we've all worked too hard to get back on an even keel to throw it away," Mr O'Brien wrote.

"FG should do what they know they need to do and that's a given but does anyone really think that we will come out of this in a better place than we now [are], ie. more than 60 seats?!?"

In a bid to restore some calm to the discussion, Meath East TD Thomas Byrne responded: "Strongly urge this conversation to continue offline."

Kevin O'Keeffe, the affable Cork East TD, replied: "And I here waiting to get started on Everest!!!" But Mr O'Brien, the party's Foreign Affairs spokesperson, took umbrage with Mr Byrne's remarks just minutes later.

Read More: Demoralised TDs lose will for political point-scoring

"Really Thomas many thanks for your advice. Much appreciated. I think this is much more constrained and balanced and responsible than some comments and reactions that occurred whilst watching the news during the week in the Dáil," he said.

This was a clear dig at his party colleagues who cheered on justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan as he expressed no confidence in the ex-tánaiste in the bar on Thursday.

'This certainly isn't taking place in full view of FG TDs. You won't mind if I don't take your comment seriously."

Ironically, senior Fianna Fáil figures have encouraged other deputies not to join the What'sApp group after becoming aware of the spat.

Of course, party bosses are well aware of how Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan - at the eye of this particular storm - was left red-faced earlier this year when leaked messages showed suggestions his colleague, Simon Harris, wanted to move out of health.

Back in the real world, Fianna Fáil's strategy in this game of high stakes political poker was being carefully managed by the party's small and very tight-knit leadership team. The team consists of Mr Martin, his chef de cabinet and close adviser Deirdre Gillane, Mr O'Callaghan, the party's general secretary Seán Dorgan, and head of communications Pat McParland. These are the individuals who Mr Martin has had to rely on more and more during this period of political uncertainty.

Crucial to the party's tactics was securing access to the fresh batch of justice documents that proved to be the death knell for Ms Fitzgerald.

Mr Martin knows that he has won this battle and that Mr Varadkar is damaged.

But he knows too - as illustrated in the WhatsApp exchanges - that the lure of power remains strong for some Fianna Fáil TDs.

Irish Independent

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