Fianna Fáil seek to resolve rift


Former Fianna Fáil minister Willie O’Dea has moved to head off any rift within the party following the resignation yesterday of Éamon Ó Cuív as deputy leader over the EU fiscal compact referendum.

Speaking this morning, Mr O'Dea said he “greatly regretted” his colleague's resignation but was confident the Galway West TD would return to the party's front bench.

Mr O’Dea said comments made by Mr Ó Cuív at last night’s Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting led him to believe he would return to the fold. “He said he had no intention of joining any other political party, that he wasn’t contesting the vice-presidency because he felt it would turn into a referendum on the party’s position on Europe," Mr O’Dea told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

The Limerick TD added that other party members, including him, had previously lost the whip but subsequently returned to serve at a senior level both in Fianna Fáil and in government. “They are the technical rules of the party but that doesn’t mean that Eamon Ó Cuív doesn’t have a big future to play in Fianna Fáil."

Earlier today, Mr Ó Cuív said the referendum was an "historic opportunity" to seek concessions from Europe.

He told TV3's Ireland AM his intention to vote against the referendum is based on his concerns about the fiscal treaty, about EU structures and his belief that the banking debt should be renegotiated.

"If you look at Lisbon, if you look at all the treaties...the basis of Europe has always been that the commission proposes policy and then heads of state dispose of it," he said. "What we have seen in the last year - is two of the leaders of Europe - that is Angela Merkel and Sarkozy - pre-empting the European council and proposing the policy and literally usurping the role of the commission. A Europe that operates on that basis will self-destruct.

"Unless we get a much better deal from Europe, unless the fundamental issues about the structures of Europe that have led us to the place we are in then I will vote No," he said

Speaking later on RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny show, Mr Ó Cuív added his decision to quit his role ahead of the party's ardfheis was an "unhappy confluence of events" and that he had been very happy in his role as deputy leader.

"I have to follow my own conscience. I'm not one of these people that is always going out on my own. I've been a consistent, hard-working member of Fianna Fáil for many, many years," he said. "But there comes a point when you believe that a decision is so fundamentally wrong that even if you are the last man standing you stand by what you believe."

Mr Ó Cuív’s public opposition to the treaty as it is constituted threatened to overshadow the party’s ardfheis this weekend, its first in three years and one perceived as crucial in its efforts to rebuild following the electoral drubbing of last year. It also posed the first major challenge to Micheál Martin since he became party leader in January last year.

Mr O’Dea said he understood Mr Ó Cuív’s concerns but said he did not think opposition to the fiscal compact would give Ireland any bargaining power in Europe. “I certainly do sympathise with all of what he said. I feel that we are being asked to carry an unduly burdensome load of debt by Europe for reasons that are not entirely of our making, " he said, adding that his only point of difference with Mr Ó Cuív was that he did not believe Ireland’s case would be advanced through opposition to the fiscal compact.

Meanwhile, Senator Tom Sheahan today compared Mr O'Cuiv's move to party ranks to the shooting of Michael Collins in 1922.

“Deputy (Michéal) Martin isn’t the first Cork man to be shot in the back by a de Valera,” the Fine Gael senator said in the Seanad. Mr Ó Cuív is the grandson of Ireland’s first taoiseach and Fianna Fáil founder Eamonn de Valera.

The senator was forced to withdraw his comment, which one member described as outrageous. “That was 90 years ago,” another member shouted.

Mr Sheahan finally agreed to withdraw the statement, which he admitted had caused offence.

Additional reporting: PA