Fianna Fáil TDs call on Martin to reshuffle senior team

Deputies say frontbench must be changed or reformed to help ‘freshen up’ party

None of the TDs who spoke to The Irish Times were critical of Micheál Martin himself. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

None of the TDs who spoke to The Irish Times were critical of Micheál Martin himself. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is facing calls from within his own parliamentary party to reshuffle his frontbench of senior spokespeople, or to reform how it operates.

A number of TDs, split between members of the frontbench and backbench TDs, privately said Mr Martin should move key spokespeople to rejuvenate the appearance and approach of the party.

Others stopped short of calling for a reshuffle but said Mr Martin must change how his senior team operates.

Mr Martin has repeatedly said that Fianna Fáil wants to focus on the areas of health and housing as it works through the confidence and supply deal with the Government.

The deal, which underpins the Fine Gael-led minority Government, is due to expire or be reviewed after the October budget. While Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has raised the prospect of extending the agreement – when there will be an estimated €3 billion to spend – Mr Martin has said he will not give the Government a “blank cheque”.

Widening gap

Calls for a reshuffle from some in Fianna Fáil come after a number of polls showing a widening gap between it and Fine Gael since December. The most recent Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll put Fine Gael on 36 per cent and Fianna Fáil on 25 per cent.

“There has largely been no change since 2011,” said one backbench TD of most of the members of the Fianna Fáil frontbench.

Another said there should be a “real freshening up” of the senior team, and a number of deputies said more appointments should be made from around the greater Dublin area, where Fianna Fáil needs its support to grow. First time TDs mentioned as possibilities for promotion include Kildare North’s James Lawless, Dublin West’s Jack Chambers and Meath West’s Shane Cassells.

It is also suggested by some party sources that Lisa Chambers, the Mayo TD, should be given a more prominent position than her current defence portfolio.

“Could you say the front bench is a Cabinet in waiting?” said one figure who was not in favour of a reshuffle but wanted to see some changes. “I’m not sure you could.”

Changes short of a reshuffle could include giving senior spokespeople more “autonomy” or allowing TDs help with the key portfolios of health and housing, held by Billy Kelleher and Barry Cowen respectively.

“Both spokespeople have performed well but it may be a case for more people to combine and chip in,” said a TD. “Where the government is weak, we need to be able to go after them on the issues.”

Encouraged

People should be encouraged to “comment on other people’s areas” of policy and responsibility, the source added.

While there is concern about the opinion poll trend among some in Fianna Fáil, others claimed Mr Varadkar is experiencing a “delayed honeymoon” that would eventually end.

“He is getting traction, though,” said one Fianna Fáil TD of the Taoiseach. “People are asking what he’s like. They’re curious.”

None of the TDs who spoke to The Irish Times were critical of Mr Martin himself, but suggested some TDs around the leader need to work harder and justify their places on the frontbench.

“Micheál is working his backside off,” said one frontbencher. “He was out there all over Christmas doing interviews.”