John McGuinness was a thorn in side of Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen

Martin’s demotion of Carlow-Kilkenny TD has come as no real surprise

John McGuinness: his repeated criticisms of Micheál Martin stung due to the perceived weakness of his leadership. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

In the long five years between Fianna Fáil’s nadir of 20 seats at the 2011 general election to its comeback in February, Micheál Martin had many critics in his often restless parliamentary party.

None more so than John McGuinness, the outspoken Carlow-Kilkenny TD and former high-profile chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

McGuinness had also been a thorn in the side of Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen but his repeated criticisms of Martin stung due to the perceived weakness of his leadership and the small size of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party in the last Dáil. At times, McGuinness seemed to revel in his status as Martin's bête noire as he complemented his criticisms of the party leader with a swashbuckling chairmanship of the PAC.

His term at the PAC saw McGuinness take on issues such as top-ups in the charity sector and the penalty points controversies. He was in the chair for Martin Callinan's now famous "disgusting" remarks about Garda whistleblowers. His PAC, however, was often used for showboating as much as fact finding, with McGuinness, Shane Ross and Mary Lou McDonald using their platform to maximum effect.


It was a position Martin appointed him to and McGuinness could have felt free to criticise Martin, with the widespread assumption the Fianna Fáil leader would quit in the event of a disappointing election.

At one stage, McGuinness set a target of 45 seats and said he expected a leadership change after the election.

In the end, Martin secured 44 seats and he yesterday consigned McGuinness to the backbenches of the party.

Martin said those TDs who are appointed as committee chairs will not sit on the front bench, and party sources made clear McGuinness will not be returning the PAC. He is likely to get another committee chairmanship but it will not disguise his demotion.


Many in the parliamentary party, who had tired of McGuinness’s criticisms, wanted Martin to take such action but feared the leader was too timid to do so. TDs had long felt McGuinness had ceased to be a team player.

One particular incident – when McGuinness declared on the day of the local election count in 2014 that the party had performed badly, against what many saw as a good result – stuck in the craw.

Martin again opted against appointing a deputy leader, conscious that the last holder, Éamon Ó Cuív, caused headaches. Ó Cuív had largely since come back onside with the leadership. He retained his position on the front bench. McGuinness, however, is now out in the cold.