Grumblings over style of leadership do not constitute a challenge to Martin
Opinion: O’Rourke’s notion of a ‘grand coalition’ has little reality in short term
Micheal Martin: has worked the organisation tirelessly, improved morale and encouraged the emergence of new faces.
In the echo chamber that is the silly season, every utterance in the political rumour mill gets exaggerated in volume: some of them even make front-page news.
This explains, in large part, how grumblings about Micheál Martin’s leadership style, which have bubbling away within the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party for months, come in August to be reported as a putative challenge to his leadership.
Nothing of that order is in the works. The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party has had a difficult term, particularly on the abortion issue, but the internal difficulties are surmountable with some effort from the leader.
There are justifiable complaints from many TDs and Senators about Micheál Martin’s failure to consult more widely. There has been a failure to hold regular parliamentary party meetings. These are supposed to be held at 5pm every Tuesday when the Dáil is sitting. As often as not they are cancelled usually at short notice.
Front bench meetings, which are scheduled for noon on a Tuesday, are also stood down on occasion. Party spokespersons complain regularly about how policy announcements are being made by the leader or through the press office without reference to them. Some of these complaints are voiced by TDs or Senators who the media assume are close to the leader.
On the abortion issue, Martin did consult individually with TDs and Senators but he was slow to appreciate that he could not carry a majority to his position and was forced into allowing a free vote.
The notion, however, that Fianna Fáil is even considering ditching Martin as leader at this stage is nonsense.
For all the complaints about a lack of consultation, Fianna Fáil TDs know that, for the time being at least, Martin is the best option as leader. He has managed to stabilise the situation after the disaster of the last election. Many, although not all, former Fianna Fáil voters have moved on from the fact that he was a member of the last much-despised government.
As leader of the opposition he has improved his parliamentary game over the last year. More importantly he has worked the party organisation tirelessly, improved morale and encouraged the emergence of new faces. He has given the party the prospect of gains in next year’s local and European elections.
Martin has managed to position Fianna Fáil well to benefit in any further slippage in support for the government. It is remarkable that Fianna Fáil is polling in the 20s just 2½ years after the collapse in the 2011 election.
It is interesting also that there were no statistical shifts in the most recent Red C poll for Paddy Power published this week. Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are at or about the same place they were when the last such poll was published in June. That was before the intense controversy around the abortion legislation. The loss of the party whip by several Fine Gael TDs and senators has had no impact on the Fine Gael vote share.