Fianna Fáil’s 2020 election postmortem still not delivered

Party TDs express disappointment at slowness of report and poor byelection showing

Taoiseach Micheál Martin at a National Day of Commemoration Ceremony in Dublin to honour Irish who died in wars or on service with the UN. Photograph: Tom Honan

Taoiseach Micheál Martin at a National Day of Commemoration Ceremony in Dublin to honour Irish who died in wars or on service with the UN. Photograph: Tom Honan

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A year and a half after the 2020 general election, Fianna Fáil’s internal inquiry into its poor performance has not yet been completed.

Following the party’s worst ever performance in an election, when its candidate, Deirdre Conroy, secured only 5 per cent of the vote in the Dublin Bay South byelection, a large number of TDs have strongly criticised the lateness of the report and warned that its findings need to be substantial and fundamental.

The inquiry conducted by an internal six-strong group is said to be near completion. It is with its chairman, Sean Fleming, and is expected to be published internally this month. In June Mr Fleming said the report was “imminent”. Efforts to contact him on Sunday were unsuccessful.

Two other Fianna Fáil TDs are in the internal group: Mary Butler, a Minister of State from Waterford; and Cormac Devlin, a TD representing Dún Laoghaire. The other three came from the party’s Ard Chomhairle or national executive.

Fianna Fáil was expecting to win more than 50 seats in the election but ended up losing seats, returning 37 TDs compared with 44 in 2016.

Following the result there have been widespread calls for a fundamental review as well as questions over Taoiseach Micheál Martin leading the party into 2023 and 2024. He is due to step down as Taoiseach in December 2022 but has said he will lead the party into the next election.

Over the weekend, a number of prominent TDs suggested a change of leadership would be required before the next election, including Jim O’Callaghan, Cathal Crowe and James Lawless.

Mr O’Callaghan, asked if Mr Martin would lead the party into the next election, said: “We will have to think about that.”

He added: “Any leader who indicates a date of departure necessarily weakens themselves. I fully understand when the Taoiseach says he is going to lead Fianna Fáil into the next general election.”

Former Minister for Agriculture Barry Cowen, who has previously said he believes Mr Martin should stand down before the next election, sent a letter to colleagues over the weekend calling for a special meeting to discuss what he described as a “shocking result”.

“We are still awaiting the Fianna Fáil review of our dismal election of February 2020,” he said.

“I know it is considered better not to have an election postmortem too soon after the event, but such a delay is simply inexplicable at this stage.

“It is imperative that both that election and the latest bad result now comes under the microscope of the parliamentary party,” he said.

‘Serious questions’

Mr Crowe said: “I was involved in some of the canvasses and it became obvious from an early part of the campaign that it would be lost and it’s hard in that situation to muster enthusiasm.”

Pádraig O’Sullivan, a TD for Cork North Central, said he was very disappointed and serious questions needed to be asked about the position of the party.

“I do think that our election review is long overdue. We need to get to grips with the issues facing the party,” he said.

Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill said the byelection result showed there was a requirement now for a “root-and-branch review from top to bottom of what has gone wrong with the party”.

Minister of State Robert Troy said the 5 per cent result could not be argued with. “We are doing good work but it is not resonating with the public,” he said.

“We would be foolish as a party not to look into our messaging.”

“It is bitterly disappointing,” said Cavan-Monaghan TD Niamh Smyth. “It is really important that we take on board the result and learn from it as a matter of urgency.”

Even before the byelection there was criticism of the lateness of the general election review report, with some questioning if it would be of value.

Last week Senator Lisa Chambers said: “I think now that too much time has passed for it to be of any use. I’m not sure if it’s going to bring any good.”

She added. “We should be doing a post-election analysis after every election but a few months afterwards, when things are fresh in people’s minds.

“It would have been preferable if it had been an external review by an independent organisation rather than internally.”