Micheál Martin has said internal tensions that beset Fianna Fáil for the first year of his tenure as Taoiseach, which began in 2020, were attributable mainly to the parliamentary party being unable to meet in person.
The Taoiseach said the mood within the parliamentary party had “settled down well” during the course of 2021 and the party is now working well.
In his annual round-table Christmas interview with political journalists, Mr Martin was asked about internal dissent, including the decision of Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry to resign the whip last September.
“I think like everything else with Covid-19, when we moved from online meetings to physical, in-person meetings, they were far better,” he said.
“I have, since I became leader, facilitated a fairly free framework of people having opinions and having ideas. That has always been my style. I wouldn’t agree with everything that everyone says at any particular time. But I think there is a lot of work going on within the parliamentary party and different members of the parliamentary party are focusing on different issues. I think it has settled down well.”
He said the first six months of Coalition had been very difficult and it was a strange beginning for newer TDs and Senators who could not meet and engage.
Asked were the difficulties solely attributable to lockdown, he accepted there were other factors. “People had differences with me and that’s natural in politics. But I think, generally speaking, it was difficult because of Covid-19 for this particular Dáil and Seanad. I think things have settled down.”
There were extensive leaks to the media when the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings were being held online with almost live tweeting of what was being said. The contributions and criticisms from Mr Martin’s opponents within the party were widely reported with the taoiseach coming under fire regularly for his performance, or being compared unfavourably to Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar or Sinn Féin chief Mary Lou McDonald. Later, supporters of Mr Martin made efforts to “rebalance” the coverage by sending out extensive briefings via social media on Mr Martin’s contributions to meetings.
The Taoiseach was asked if he would invite Mr MacSharry to return to the party in 2022. He replied: “Marc took his own decision, took it on his own initiative and that remains the situation.”