Martin’s reputation burnished, but fears mount Fianna Fáil has lost touch
‘When the country went 70-30 in one way, the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party went 80-20 in the opposite direction’
Micheál Martin: he may need to go against his natural inclinations and forcefully impose his will on the party
At least one Fianna Fáil TD is clear about what Micheál Martin must do to impose discipline on his parliamentary party.
“Anyone who sticks their head above the parapet against Micheál Martin should be sacked,” said the frontbencher. “They should be taken out and sacked.”
Conflict is not Martin’s style, but the Deputy who did not wish to be named thinks the time may have come for the Fianna Fáil leader to wield his authority. “He needs to man up a bit.”
Martin, having gone against the grain of his parliamentary party and wider membership to push for repeal and the associated legislation to allow for abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, now finds his own reputation enhanced, while that of his party has taken its biggest hit since the electoral meltdown of 2011.
Fianna Fáil TDs from both sides of the referendum – repealers as well as retainers – are genuinely frightened their party is now out of touch with vast swathes of society.
Niall Collins, a Limerick TD and foreign affairs spokesman, is so far the only senior party figure to put on record what most of those who supported repeal feel about some party colleagues, particularly those who seemed intent on stirring up trouble for Martin.
“When the country went 70-30 in one way, the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party went 80-20 in the opposite direction,” said Collins. “If the party is to grow from its current core support levels, the parliamentary party needs to realise where the public are.”
TDs and Senators were given a free vote on abortion by Martin. But recent weeks saw some in favour of retaining the Eighth Amendment mix their genuinely-held views with hostility to their leader on other matters.
Martin says he was aware of such sniping, and told a colleague as the campaign progressed that the scale of the Yes vote would put a stop to all that.
Others who advocated a No now accept they were wrong, and that they should have listened to their leader. They realise now, as Martin realised long before them, that there is no political future for an old conservative Fianna Fáil, particularly when it is up against a Leo Varadkar-led Fine Gael and Mary Lou McDonald’s Sinn Féin.
“I am genuinely worried that we are so far away from where the public are at,” said one No-voting senior TD. “We just need to listen to Micheál more.”
Not all who voted No will so easily realise their error in judgment, argues one Martin ally. Many, it is claimed, will be happy to sit back and court No supporters in their constituencies.
“They don’t see it. There are some of them who are sitting back now, looking at that 30 per cent, thinking: ‘that’s grand, that’ll do for me.’ They don’t give a f-ck about the party. They don’t see the bigger prize of Fianna Fáil being in government.”
Martin will hope that the scale of the Yes victory will be enough to convince his parliamentary party to trust his judgement and adapt to a modern Ireland if Fianna Fáil is to lead a future government. However, he may need to go against his natural inclinations and forcefully impose his will on the party.