Ardfheis: Martin says grassroots support extension of confidence and supply

Micheál Martin says deal with Fine Gael not an issue in terms of his leadership

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told press at  his party’s ardfheis that the continuation of confidence and supply was a ‘no brainer’. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told press at his party’s ardfheis that the continuation of confidence and supply was a ‘no brainer’. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Micheál Martin has said he has strong support among Fianna Fáil’s grassroots for his decision to extend the confidence and supply agreement with Fine Gael for another year.

Speaking at his party’s ardfheis in City West on Saturday, Mr Martin said it was simply not an issue in terms of his leadership and said delegates had a nuanced understanding of it.

“They get the difficulties and the complexities,” he said.

Mr Martin’s decision to prolong the agreement has come under sharp focus during the controversy over the national children’s hospital and Minister for Health Simon Harris’s handling of escalating costs. Some senior TDs in the party expressed frustration at the constraints imposed on them by the agreement.

“Many of my members out there, they want to show there is a better alternative. They are anxious in terms of getting back into government and so on,” said Mr Martin.

“As I said earlier (members) take a more nuanced view on it.

“As the Brexit date looms, even the legislation that will go through the house, if we were in the middle of an election we would not be in a position to put through emergency legislation. Now, how logical would that position be?”

Mr Martin said the continuation of confidence and supply was a “no brainer”.

“The Irish political system has stood the test in terms of understanding critical threats to the nation and rising above party politics to deal with it,” he said.

Asked if, given the arithmetic of Irish politics, a similar arrangement would be required after the next election, he said it was far too early for “coalitionology” and his party’s focus was on becoming the largest party after the next election.

Broadening his argument, he contended that such arrangements led to governments that last only two to three years, and said such a “new norm” would not be very good for Irish democracy.

When it was put to him that some delegates believe the party should have gone further with its arrangement with the SDLP and merged with it, he replied the sensible thing for Fianna Fáil to do was to work with the SDLP on “policy agenda in terms of new ideas and new approaches”.

He said the SDLP was already rooted in the North with a strong electoral base in the Assembly and in councils.

‘Limbo period’

Turning to Brexit, he said a No Deal had to be avoided at all cost but asserted there was no clarity on what happens if nothing is agreed by March 29th.

“There are some suggestions there will be a bit of a limbo period where very little will happen in the week or two.

“The WTO is there. The rest of Europe is not going to hang around in terms of the security of the single market.”

He said there are issues there that are not clear.

“I do not believe there should be a border. We don’t want any hard border between north and south. Every effort has to be made to avoid a No deal. Once a no deal happens that sets in motion a train of events that can be very damaging to Ireland and to Britain.”

Mr Martin also said he wanted to consolidate Fianna Fáil’s position as the largest party after the local elections but it would be challenging as “22 of our star performers went on to become Dáil Deputies”.

He said the party had not done well in the last European elections and wanted to win a sea in every constituency. He also said that would be challenging.

He said he had no difficulty with Cork North Central TD Billy Kelleher seeking a nomination in the South constituency, despite suggestions the party leadership favoured Séamus McGrath, a brother of Cork South Central TD Michael McGrath.

One of the good things about the keenly contested conventions was that it reenergised the party, he said. And that was illustrated by the convention in Dublin.

Mr Martin will make his key note speech to the party’s delegates at 8.30pm on Saturday evening.