Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan declined to say categorically that Taoiseach Micheál Martin would lead the party into the next general election, saying it would very much depend on the timing of the election.
Mr O'Callaghan's remarks came as Fianna Fáil's Dublin Bay South byelection candidate, Deirdre Conroy, took just under 5 per cent of the first-preference votes in the constituency where he is the local TD and served as director of elections.
Asked if a change of leadership was necessary, Mr O’Callaghan said no, but when asked if Mr Martin should lead the party into the next election, he said it depended on when it would be held.
When asked if it would be 2024 or 2025, he replied: “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.”
Mr O’Callaghan, who is seen as a contender to replace Mr Martin as party leader, said the result was “extremely disappointing” but praised Ms Conroy for her efforts. Asked about his own performance, he said: “I have no difficulty accepting my share of the responsibility but I am exclusively not responsible for Fianna Fáil’s share of the vote declining from 14 to 5 per cent.”
“It’s more complex and complicated than that.”
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he was not worried that Fianna Fáil’s poor showing and Mr O’Callaghan’s remarks would lead to instability in the Coalition.
“They’re internal matters for Fianna Fáil,” he said. “We’re in Government. We have responsibility to get on with things and do the people’s business, and we will.”
Mr Varadkar also denied the outcome raised questions over his ability to lead Fine Gael to election victories, saying there had been been good and bad results during his leadership – pointing to the European and general elections respectively. Fine Gael candidate James Geoghegan got 26.23 per cent of first-preference votes.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the byelection result meant voters now wanted a general election. “It is now clear that we have a Government living on borrowed time.”
Responding to the result in which the party’s candidate, Lynn Boylan, received 15.8 per cent of first preferences, marginally down on the general election, Ms McDonald said it demonstrated the party’s one seat in the constituency was solid.
Green Party leader and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan insisted it had been “a really good campaign” for his party despite a a drop to 8 per cent from a 22 per cent vote in the general election.
Mr Ryan said there was “a lot to be decided before that’s decided” when asked if the party’s candidate, Cllr Claire Byrne, would be his running mate at the general election.
Labour leader Alan Kelly said the victory of his party’s candidate, Senator Ivana Bacik, was an important moment for the party after a “very difficult 10 years electorally” for the party.
There had been an attempt to pigeonhole politics into Fine Gael versus Sinn Féin, and “we have demonstrated today there are progressive alternatives”.
Ms Bacik said she was surprised she had topped the poll and was “overwhelmed and over the moon” after a “positive and respectful” campaign that focused on social justice, elder care and childcare, public services and climate justice.
Anti-facemask campaigner Prof Dolores Cahill, who ran as an Independent, was refused entry to the RDS count centre for not wearing a mask. Ms Cahill received 169 first-preference votes, coming 12th out of 15 candidates.
The count took place with strict Covid-19 measures, including temperature checks on the door and reduced numbers of political tallymen and women.
Ms Cahill filmed gardaí using her phone and tried to get through the door, claiming “no one has any authority to restrict our entry”.