Former minister pledges to recover Fianna Fáil core support if elected party leader

 

MICHEÁL MARTIN:FORMER MINISTER for foreign affairs Micheál Martin has said he would hope to get Fianna Fáil support up to the mid-20s as a minimum percentage in the opinion polls if elected party leader on Wednesday.

Mr Martin spent yesterday at his home in Ballinlough in Cork city contacting members of the parliamentary party as he tried to build support following early declarations for him from a number of fellow Munster TDs.

Among those to come out early and back Mr Martin were Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Peter Power from Limerick and Mr Martin’s Cork SouthCentral constituency colleague Michael McGrath.

Cork East TD Ned O’Keeffe and Cork North-West TD Michael Moynihan were also among those to declare early that they would be supporting Mr Martin while Limerick city TD and former minister for defence Willie O’Dea also declared for Mr Martin.

Mr Martin declined requests for interviews yesterday but speaking at his home on Saturday he set a target of getting Fianna Fáil up to the mid-20s in the opinion polls but he refused to be drawn on how many seats he believes the party would win under his leadership.

“I’m not getting into precise number of seats but I think we need to get to the mid-20s in percentage terms . . . during this campaign that will be very challenging. But with energy and with vigour and with our very talented candidates, we can do that.

“This is the most challenging election campaign that Fianna Fáil has faced since its formation . . . I’m very determined to work with my party members to ensure the best outcome possible for Fianna Fáil,” he added.

The former minister for foreign affairs said he was confident the party would unite around the new leader as he expected the leadership contest to be conducted without rancour.

“No, the contest won’t be divisive. I think we can do it in a very civilised, orderly way just as the vote of confidence was done last week.

“Everyone was taken aback by the generosity of spirit and the very civil manner in which that was conducted . . . there is no need for any backbiting or underhand stuff or anything like that, we can carry this out in that spirit,” he said.

Mr Martin said Mr Cowen had taken his decision to step down as leader of Fianna Fáil in circumstances which cannot have been easy for him personally but he admired him for his generosity in putting the party first and stepping down.

“I have always admired the Taoiseach. He’s always been a man of honesty and integrity. He has made a distinctive contribution to Irish public life in the ministerial portfolios he has held and indeed as Taoiseach of the country,” he said.

Mr Martin said he believed he could bring energy and vitality to the party to ensure a vibrant campaign in what will be one of the most important elections for the country.

“I also believe my experience in various ministerial portfolios and my understanding of the economic challenges that face the country and in particular the role I’ve played in encouraging foreign direct investment and Irish owned industry that I know what it takes to ensure the right policy framework is in place in terms of job creation.

He agreed, he said, with Mr Cowen’s assessment that the election campaign should be focused on policies rather personalities and it was important that Fianna Fáil play a central role in the debate on policy choices being put before the electorate.

“It’s not about faces on election posters, it’s about substantive policies. It’s about a very focused debate on the future of the country and the policies that can secure that future and I think in the course of an effective campaign, we can put policies and ideas before the people that can help this country come through this economic crisis.”

MICHEÁL MARTIN PROFILE:

THE FORMER minister for foreign affairs (50) has been a TD for more than 21 years and has been a senior minister for more than 13 years. He is a TD for Cork South-Central, and is likely to attract the support of most other TDs from Cork.

Mr Martin’s main political achievement has been the introduction of the smoking ban when minister for enterprise. But he has been associated with several controversies, particularly the one relating to unauthorised charges being imposed on patients in long-term residential care.

A recent Irish Timesopinion poll identified Mr Martin as the popular choice to replace Mr Cowen. But his public popularity is not wholly reflected within the party.