Pressure on Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s leadership of Fianna Fáil intensified over the weekend with some of his TDs questioning the party’s ability to survive unless “drastic” action is taken.
A number of parliamentary party members have grown increasingly unhappy with Mr Martin’s management style recently, and this culminated in some very vocal criticism at its meeting last week.
The party’s poor performance in a Red C opinion poll published in the Business Post on Sunday, which put support for Fianna Fáil at just 10 per cent, has heightened concerns among TDs and Senators.
The party came in well behind coalition partner Fine Gael (35 per cent) and Sinn Féin (27 per cent) and has seen its popularity fall by five points since Mr Martin became Taoiseach in May.
One party member said they hoped the poor showing might serve as a wake-up call as to how bad things are. “It’s very serious for Fianna Fáil. The public have made up their minds on Micheál Martin as Taoiseach.”
The Covid-19 crisis has put paid to any immediate threat to Mr Martin’s leadership, and one TD suggested the party’s misfortunes could be overturned with “good pandemic control”.
However, another warned that things could change, and that in about six months there could be a challenge from “a number of contenders”.
Mr Martin defended his performance on Sunday, and insisted that “I’m not into short-termism or opinion polls”.
“No government can run on opinion polls from month to month,” he told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics. “Maybe if I have one fault, I do focus on policy a lot. I do focus on the substance of government decisions, and getting things done for future of the country.”
A senior Fianna Fáil member said many TDs had grown reluctant to speak at parliamentary meetings because their remarks were leaked to the media.
Mr Martin still retains support within the wider party, and a number of members did not wish to comment publicly on his leadership, with one saying they just had to “get on with it”.
Senator Ned O’Sullivan tweeted that “75 per cent of our membership voted in favour of going into government with FG and Green Party”.
He said “party unity and support for the leader has defined Fianna Fáil since 1926. This is a time for real patriotism, not defeatism.”
One member said “there are disparate views in the parliamentary party”. Some TDs and Senators “hadn’t woken up to how bad things are looking”.
Roscommon Senator Eugene Murphy said Mr Martin "is doing his best and working hard, but for whatever reason he just hasn't clicked with the people".
“We must not deny we are at a low ebb, and have a problem right now with the electorate.”
Commenting on the poll, former minister Eamon Ó Cuív, a long-time critic of Mr Martin’s, said: “Looks like my prediction of there being two large parties but FF not being one of them is coming to pass.
“The threat is existential. FF won’t survive if we persist with the myth that the decline is simply due to external factors and not the party’s direction,” he said on Twitter
Another hit out at Mr Martin’s “pig-headedness” in insisting he would not talk to Sinn Féin about forming a government, which they said had “cost the party hundreds of thousands of votes”.