Mr Ó Cuív's manoeuvres


YOU CAN put a fire out by starving it of oxygen. That seems to be the tactic favoured by Micheál Martin in response to the nascent Fianna Fáil leadership challenge being waged by Éamon Ó Cuív.

On each occasion his authority has been challenged in recent months, Mr Martin’s response was firm, doing what party discipline required while denying the pretender undue publicity and a victim’s cloak. Strategically, Mr Martin is ahead, but the contest for Fianna Fáil hearts and minds continues.

The outcome of the referendum on the EU stability treaty will have consequences that go beyond fiscal discipline. Mr Ó Cuív has chosen to make the referendum a defining moment in his challenge for the leadership.

Should the former deputy leader emerge on the winning side, his criticisms of Mr Martin as a Europhile with a blinkered view and poor judgment are likely to gain currency within the party. If he loses, the Dáil may become an unforgiving place and time may appear to be running out.

Having failed in his attempt to become party leader following the resignation of Brian Cowen in 2011, Mr Ó Cuív witnessed the near-destruction of Fianna Fáil in the general election when it lost 58 Dáil seats. The death of Brian Lenihan saw him advance to the position of deputy leader.

But he was publicly humiliated when Mr Martin rejected his offer to stand as a Fianna Fáil candidate in the presidential election. From there, it was all downhill.

Mr Martin offered “constructive opposition” in his drive to rehabilitate the party and distinguish it from Sinn Féin. Mr Ó Cuív consistently rejected new charges and maintained that rural Ireland was “under attack” from government. As approaches differed, the party was convulsed by the findings of the Mahon tribunal, which forced the resignations of Bertie Ahern and Pádraig Flynn. It was then Mr Ó Cuív chose to oppose the fiscal treaty and challenged Mr Martin’s authority, arguing that the referendum offered “an historic opportunity” to seek concessions from Europe. Mr Martin replied he was “not going to play games with issues that go to the core of the future of Europe” and demanded his deputy’s resignation from formal positions within Fianna Fáil.

From the backbenches, Mr Ó Cuív has continued to foster internal party dissent, threatening legal action if further disciplinary action is taken against him, suggesting the referendum could be re-run if defeated and favouring an alliance with Sinn Féin. In response, Mr Martin trenchantly criticised Sinn Féin and its paramilitary background before extracting an undertaking from Mr Ó Cuív that he would not campaign with the No side. That, the Fianna Fáil leader said yesterday, is where matters rest.

Going on past behaviour, a further pushing of the boundaries can be expected. The process of European integration certainly troubles Mr Ó Cuív – he voted against the Lisbon Treaty – but his prime political target on this occasion appears to be the Fianna Fáil leadership and not the fiscal treaty.