Fianna Fáil TDs rally to support Taoiseach's leadership, for now

Alliance of Fianna Fáil TDs do not believe he will lead party into next election

Micheál Martin: “The reality is that the Taoiseach is doing a good job and getting a good response from the public. It is sheer futility to say he should be replaced now”

Micheál Martin: “The reality is that the Taoiseach is doing a good job and getting a good response from the public. It is sheer futility to say he should be replaced now”

 

In September 2020, about a dozen Fianna Fáil TDs huddled together in a corner of the Leinster House self-service restaurant. Most of them were newly elected and were deeply concerned about the bad start the Government – and particularly their own party – had got off to.

That day the coalition had made a mess of communicating its multi-level Covid-19 plan. Party leader Micheál Martin was on the back foot and he gave a tetchy interview on RTÉ’s Six One News.

Within half an hour the weekly parliamentary party meeting was about to start and it was not going to be pretty. However, their beef was not with the party leadership, rather it was with the internal critics.

Since the Government had been formed, every syllable uttered by TDs and Senators at these supposedly secret meetings was being leaked in live, running commentaries on Twitter. Most of it came from those who had been opposed to going into government with Fine Gael and the Greens in the first place.

At that informal gathering in the canteen the group decided to take a stand against leaks which they believed were corroding the party and undermining Martin’s leadership. At the meeting most of these freshly elected TDs stood up to speak – many for the first time – and berated the internal critics for the constant carping against both the coalition and the Taoiseach.

The visible stance that night was not a flash-in-the-pan. The core group of new parliamentarians who were there that night have continued to meet and socialise together, and have now become a distinguishable group that carry clout in relation to the direction of the parliamentary party and particularly the leadership issue.

New intake

In structure, it is not unlike Fine Gael’s “Five-a-Side”, the alliance of young TDs who formed around Eoghan Murphy following the 2011 election. It is a larger group, however, a loose collection of 11 or 12 of the new intake including TDs Cathal Crowe, Christopher O’Sullivan, Paul McAuliffe, Cormac Devlin, and Joe Flaherty, and Senators Mary Fitzpatrick, Erin McGreehan, Ollie Crowe and Malcolm Byrne. More experienced parliamentarians such as Shane Cassells, James Lawless, Anne Rabbitte and Mary Butler are also perceived as close to them.

Notably, two of the more prominent new parliamentarians, James O’Connor and Pádraig O’Sullivan, are not aligned to the group.

In purpose it is very different to the “Five-a-Side” in that the group see themselves as pragmatists and centrists who support Martin’s leadership.

“There is a group of us who believe that he is doing a good job in managing the crisis and should remain,” said one, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We really want to claim back some identity and set out a very clear ideology. We are party people. We do not want the party carpet-bombed each week by its own. That has really thrown the party and the Taoiseach under a bus.

“We are not blind supporters of Micheál but believe he should be given a chance and given space.”

Speaking to various members of the group, a common theme emerges. They don’t want Martin toppled now but many of them feel he should not be leader either at the end of 2022, or leading the party into the next election. “We are not so much a five-a-side. We would see our function as a little like the Tory 1922 backbench committee. We are centrists, who stand for the party and want it to lead on the front foot.”

Internal arithmetic

The impact this group has on the internal arithmetic of Fianna Fáil is it provides a block that strengthens the Taoiseach’s position in terms of leadership, for a year at least.

“Many of us have offices on the same floor, and talk all the time and have become friends socially,” says another member of the group. “We broadly support the programme for Government. We are fed up with the negative voices. We are like-minded in outlook, progressive, believers in public service delivery and in public spending.

“The reality is that the Taoiseach is doing a good job and getting a good response from the public. It is sheer futility to say he should be replaced now. I am not saying that the group is composed of dyed-in-the wool Micheál loyalists. We are being pragmatic.”

While backing Martin now, several members of the group do feel a little frustrated that the leader does not engage with them enough.

Another member says: “We are mostly new and don’t have the hang-ups of party history. Our conversations are all about getting on with doing things.

“We are of the view that if this Government lasts a full term, Micheál Martin will not be leading us into the election. At the same time there is a view to let him get on with the job and our core tasks of delivering housing, health and education.”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.