Willie O’Dea says he would quit FF rather than support another coalition

‘We have lost ground by being indistinguishable from Fine Gael,’ Limerick TD says

Fianna Fáil Limerick TD Willie O'Dea has threatened to quit the party and run as an Independent, rather than support another coalition government anchored by a confidence and supply deal.

Celebrating his 40th anniversary as a TD on Saturday, the former cabinet minister criticised Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, for extending a power-sharing deal with Fine Gael after the 2020 general election, saying it alienated Fianna Fáil's voters.

Elsewhere, confidence and supply agreements last 18 months to two years, said Mr O'Dea: "Michael Martin signed up for three years, that was a bad mistake.

“His second mistake was that, even though [it] had lasted almost three years, the [2019] local elections came along and we did surprisingly well, and Sinn Féin did surprisingly badly – that was the time to cut the confidence and supply agreement off and go to the people,” he said.


“We had survived for more than two years without losing popularity, which was an achievement in itself, by sheer luck. We were lucky our supporters tolerated this, but then we got a great opportunity.

“Instead of doing what . . . you know, like, I wouldn’t consider [MMA fighter] Conor McGregor as any kind of intellectual, but Conor McGregor’s attitude would be when you get a fella down, don’t let him get up.

“But Micheál Martin seems to have a different mentality to Conor McGregor, so not only do we allow Sinn Féin to get up, but we allowed them plenty of time to reorganise and figure out what went wrong,” Mr O’Dea said.

“We have lost ground by being indistinguishable from Fine Gael,” he said, “If we do lose more ground and the party was [again] proposing to go into coalition with anybody, I wouldn’t be voting for that coalition.

“I’d have to resign from the party at that stage, if that situation came about. I would have to become an Independent TD then. I’d leave the party if I was being whipped into voting for another coalition.”

Mr O’Dea is considering penning a tell-all memoir, from a trove of “diaries I have kept since my first day in the Dáil”, which has already attracted the interest of several publishers.

“Well, when I write it, it’ll be called WillieLeaks,” he jokes, “and I can assure you it’ll have to be scrutinised by the lawyers . . . there’ll be lots of fellas nervous, some of them are no longer with us, but a lot of them still are.”

‘Finish of Fianna Fáil’

Saying a few years in opposition would do Fianna Fáil “enormous good”, Mr O’Dea added: “I think that another term in government would be the finish of Fianna Fáil, and I think the figures in the next election will prove that.”

Fianna Fáil will not improve on its 2020 election result of 38 seats in the next election, he said: “All of the indications are that they will be mauled further by the experience of being in coalition government.”

Disillusioned with Mr Martin’s leadership, Mr O’Dea indicated he would support Jim O’Callaghan as the party’s next leader: “I think [he] would be an alternative, certainly, he is a serious contender.

“What I’m saying is that if Fianna Fáil is to be seen as getting away from what it was, the last thing you need is more of the same. You have to present a new image and you must do it from the top down.

“It must be a new modern image, people who have no association really with the past. What’s equally important is to have people who don’t really have too close an association with the present Government,” the Limerick TD said.

None of Fianna Fáil’s existing ministers should take over, he believed: “The last thing you want to do is put in one of [them] because – and I’ve nothing personal against any of them – but people would see it as more of the same.”

Fianna Fáil has never recovered from the 1990s tribunals, he said, “the looking for money and accepting money and all that – the foundations of Fianna Fáil’s difficulties today derive directly from that period”.

Working as an accountant in the 1980s, Mr O'Dea said he heard many stories about Charles J Haughey: "I thought that even if one 10th of the stories I had heard about were true, I couldn't support him."

An 11-time Dáil winner, Mr O’Dea said he has been contemplating retirement more often over the last few years, but said he would carry on “as long as the people want me”.

“Forty years in a job is a long time, I worked for 10 years before that, so I’ve been working for a good 50 years, and a lot of fellas, when they’re working for 50 years, feel they’re inclined to take a break.”