A heave against Micheál Martin? Fianna Fáil TDs worried, but not ready to act

Growing number of TDs want Martin to step down before the next election

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: Unsurprisingly the vast majority of Ministers support him. Photograph: Getty Images

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: Unsurprisingly the vast majority of Ministers support him. Photograph: Getty Images

 

One hundred years ago this week Niamh Smyth’s grandfather, Paddy Smith, was sentenced to death after being captured by British forces. Spared, he went on to be a TD for 53 years.

Today Niamh Smyth is a Cavan-Monaghan TD, and one with deep-rooted fears about the future of Fianna Fáil, compounded by its dismal performance in the Dublin Bay South byelection.

“It would be terrible, terrible, to think that all the work and sacrifices that generation did have come to nothing,” she said on Monday. “To see a party which was founded on such strong ideals begin to flounder so badly.

“We really need to do something. We need to listen to our membership and to the electorate. We are failing to get our message across, and we are not connecting with people.”

The Dublin Bay South result was unvarnished. Party candidate Deirdre Conroy won just 5 per cent of the vote, finishing a distant fifth – an historic low for the party.

Even in 2011 its then outgoing TD Chris Andrews (now with Sinn Féin) managed 10 per cent, while John Lahart managed 8 per cent in the 2014 Dublin South West byelection, having lost core territory in a constituency redrawing.

A lot of talk now centres on Taoiseach Micheál Martin. A growing number of TDs now want him to step down ahead of the next election, but not enough of them are prepared to say that he should do it now.

For others, focusing solely on Martin is a distraction. “It’s not all about the leadership. There are issues that need to be addressed that go much wider than that,” says Niamh Smyth.

Joe Flaherty (Longford-Westmeath) agrees, saying Martin has done “an outstanding job” and there is nobody else in Fianna Fáil with such determination and commitment. “He has put in a Herculean performance.”

Despite the unrest there is no appetite for a motion of no confidence now. Sligo TD Marc MacSharry says he would sign one, but most agree with John Lahart that one will not be brought forth.

Would-be plotters

Unsurprisingly the vast majority of Ministers support Martin, with Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue urging would-be plotters to cop on and stop “navel-gazing” .

However, younger and newly-elected TDs are privately critical of Martin. “Ministers are all rallying around the Taoiseach saying his performance is adequate, when it is not. If we do not do anything I personally think it will be a bloodbath. We have an opportunity to do this [change leader] now,” said one.

However, youth is not united either. Another younger TD disagreed: “I would not be of the view that it’s a leadership issue. The consistent leaking from PP meetings is awful. We are seen as a party with no unity of purpose.”

Many, though, do not want a challenge, but they do want orderly change, with Martin going at the end of 2022.

“We need a new leader after that. We need a proper succession plan,” said one.

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