FORMER Fianna Fail Minister Willie O’Dea has stepped into the controversy over the sacking of rebel deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv on his opposition to a Yes vote on the fiscal compact referendum.
The party veteran said that he believed Mr O Cuiv would only be “temporarily” off the party’s front bench on Morning Ireland, RTE Radio 1.
But he said the party was united on the issue of the forthcoming fiscal compact referendum.
Conceding that Irish people had a “unduly burdensome load of debt”, Mr O’Dea said: “The only point of difference between us is that I don’t think we will advance our case by opposing the fiscal compact.”
Fianna Fail’s grassroots have reacted with fury after party leader Micheal Martin sacked his deputy.
TDs and senators were peppered with angry phone calls from local activists, as the party split over the upcoming referendum on greater EU controls over our Budgets.
Anger is intensifying on a number of issues which threaten to split Fianna Fail.
On one hand the party's TDs are furious that Mr O Cuiv had made such an issue of the referendum just days before the Ard Fheis. But on the other hand the grassroots were last night calling TDs and Senators to protest about how the popular deputy leader had been treated.
Mr O Cuiv stepped down as deputy leader and communications spokesman after defying Mr Martin's decision that Fianna Fail would support a 'Yes' in the referendum.
Speaking on the Vincent Browne show on TV3 last night, Mr O Cuiv said he believed the referendum represented a unique opportunity for the government to renegotiate the bank debt saddled on Irish people which they had no responsibility for.
He blamed German banks for lending to Irish banks who then lent recklessly.
“I am opposing the referendum unless we get a much better deal from Europe.” he said.
Mr O Cuiv’s removal sent shockwaves through the political establishment following a poor opinion-poll rating for Fianna Fail and complaints from TDs that Mr Martin was being too cautious in opposition.
Mr Martin took decisive action in dealing with the grandson of founding father Eamon de Valera last night, but now faces a further backlash at the party's Ard Fheis which begins tomorrow.
He held an emergency parliamentary party meeting in Leinster House last night to quell the crisis. Both Mr Martin and Mr O Cuiv spoke at the meeting which was described as "amicable".
Mr O Cuiv gave his reasons for opposing a "yes" vote. A number of TDs and Senators supported his call for a banking debt writedown to be part of the referendum deal. The meeting heard this could be tagged on during Fianna Fail's campaign.
But privately, some TDs welcomed yesterday's move and claimed Mr Martin had been strengthened by it, after previous clashes between Mr O Cuiv and himself were seen to have weakened the party and caused distraction and division.
"This is all about O Cuiv himself and positioning himself as the true guardian of Fianna Fail," one TD said, adding: "Micheal had to do what he had to do."
Another said: "After seeing him at close quarters for the last year, a lot of us would be glad he's gone."
Mr O Cuiv said he was forced out of his frontbench role after clashing with Mr Martin over the EU referendum, which he described as fundamental to the future of Ireland.
The Galway West TD said he would only support the treaty if there was a writedown on Irish banking debt and changes in European banking regulations.
Mr O Cuiv is expected to receive a rapturous reception from some quarters of Fianna Fail at their crunch meeting this weekend.
Acknowledging the calls coming in from the grassroots, a senator said: "He'd have his supporters alright; he'll get a reception at the Ard Fheis."
Privately, TDs said the split had been coming for some time after a number of differences between Mr Martin and Mr O Cuiv.
Both ran for the leadership after Brian Cowen stepped down last year. And they most notably clashed over Fianna Fail's decision not to run a candidate for the presidency.
Mr O Cuiv had previously threatened to resign as deputy leader during an acrimonious parliamentary party meeting on the presidential strategy in September.
Now he will stay as a member of Fianna Fail's parliamentary party but it is almost certain that he will lose the party whip if he opposes the party's stance on the referendum.
He also ruled out joining Sinn Fein and said he hoped that his future would be in Fianna Fail. However, he said his dramatic move had nothing to do with his own leadership ambitions.
Speaking on the steps of Leinster House, Mr O Cuiv revealed that he had been forced out.
"The leader asked me to resign because we had a fundamental policy difference," he said. "He also told me I was to vacate my position on the frontbench and I accept that."
He also unleashed an attack on German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
"In the last year in particular, it seems that Europe is being run by Merkel and Sarkozy," he said.
Mr Martin will not appoint a new deputy leader until after the Ard Fheis, but Mayo TD Dara Calleary is currently seen as the frontrunner.
Mr O Cuiv is also understood to have withdrawn his name from consideration for the position as Vice-President of the party.
The position is to be decided at the party's Ard Fheis this weekend.