Fianna Fáil focused too much on Sinn Féin in last election campaign, review finds

Taoiseach Micheál Martin expected to come under fire at party think-in

 Taoiseach Micheál Martin is likely to face severe criticism at the party’s think-in in Co Cavan. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is likely to face severe criticism at the party’s think-in in Co Cavan. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

 

Fianna Fáil concentrated too much on Sinn Féin in the last election campaign and the party was damaged among young people by the stance of many of its TDs against repeal of the Eighth Amendment, a review of the state of the party has found.

The document, circulated to members of the parliamentary party last night, is due to be discussed by TDs and Senators today at what is expected to be a stormy meeting during the party’s think-in in Co Cavan, at which party leader and Taoiseach Micheál Martin is likely to face severe criticism, sources predict.

The report, which was based on a review of the party’s electoral performances but also on a survey of the members, identifies a number of reasons for the party’s disappointing performance in the last general election.

The report is critical in places of the campaign run by the leadership and party headquarters, citing the late appointment of a director of elections, a conservative and cautious manifesto which had insufficient involvement of the party’s front bench, and an ineffective use of social media.

It also concludes that the party leadership talked too much about “another party” – ie Sinn Féin – during the campaign.

However, the report also identifies other reasons for the poor performance. It says that the party was badly damaged by the “votegate” controversy in late 2019, when some of the party’s TDs were found to have been voting on behalf of colleagues who were not in the Dáil chamber.

Unclear

It says the party’s identity is weak, with a majority of the party’s own members unclear about it. It relies on “candidate-based voting” rather than strong support for Fianna Fáil.

It also says the party’s support for the Fine Gael minority administration under the confidence and supply arrangement meant Fianna Fáil could not assert an independent position in opposition to the then government – a handicap which was especially evident during its abstention on the vote of no confidence in then minister for housing Eoghan Murphy in December 2019, just two months before the general election.

But it also identifies that the opposition of many Fianna Fáil TDs to the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which was supported by Mr Martin, was a factor in turning many younger voters off from the party. The report also points to the long record of leaks from parliamentary party meetings, which often feature criticism of Mr Martin by TDs, as damaging to the party.

Mr Martin will present a response to the report which was also circulated to the parliamentary party last night. He will propose a number of reforms to the way Fianna Fáil operates, as it prepares for its centenary in 2026. A reorganisation of party structures, and reforms to the way European Parliament candidates are selected, as well as improved services for party members, will be suggested.

Sources say, however, there is likely to be heavy criticism of Mr Martin today from TDs, many of whom have been privately critical of him for some time. Some party sources have speculated in recent days there could be a motion of no confidence in Mr Martin, but even some of those said to be opposed to his leadership played down that prospect last night.