Photo that may mark start of Fianna Fáil leadership challenge

Slickly organised Oireachtas members rally for abortion-referendum No vote

 Fianna Fáil for No:  those present for the photograph and those who missed the event received this image. A text message urged those present to “share widely on social media”

Fianna Fáil for No: those present for the photograph and those who missed the event received this image. A text message urged those present to “share widely on social media”

 

“Hi all. A photograph of Fianna Fáil Oireachtas members who support No vote will take place at Merrion Street entrance of Leinster House. Please do not be late. We will be finished at 4pm.”

This was the text that arrived in the inbox of Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators on Tuesday afternoon at 12.39pm about an event for those opposing the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

It was followed by a reminder text message that day advising all party members that the picture was being taken and to come as soon as possible.

A total of 27 members arrived on time, four were late but made it into the picture anyway. A further four sent their apologies.

The event was organised by Waterford TD Mary Butler, a strong voice for those within the party that do not share the leader’s position on the forthcoming referendum.

Butler had committed to organising one in response, or perhaps in retaliation, to a similar photograph being taken by members calling for a Yes vote on May 25th.

Another text message went out yesterday pointing to the fact the story had leaked. It had been on the front page of this paper on Thursday morning.

‘Share widely’

At 2pm yesterday, all of those present and those who missed the event received the image in their inboxes. It was accompanied by a text message urging all those present to “share widely on social media”.

The slick organisation of the photograph was in stark contrast to another Fianna Fáil family photograph taken a few weeks ago. In the second week of April, Dublin Bay South TD Jim O’Callaghan sent an email to members within the party supporting a Yes vote, asking them to come to Merrion Square the following Thursday (April 19th) for a photograph.

Ten party members showed up. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who supports repeal and the legislation that follows, was not present. He was canvassing in Dublin.

His presence may have tipped some within the party over the edge. It is no surprise to anyone that his position on this issue has ruffled quite a few feathers within the party.

The division on abortion is not confined to Fianna Fáil.

Fine Gael estimates 26 of its members are opposed to the referendum, while a further 10 are undecided or not stating their position. The party reckons 33 support the proposal.

However, those advocating a No vote within the Government party are not as vocal as those pursuing the repeal of the amendment.

While party funds have been used for leaflets and literature for those on the Yes side, it is understood none of the available money for those opposed has been accessed yet.

Leadership changes

Sinn Féin, too, has its difficulties. But they are confined to two members of the parliamentary party, Peadar Tóibín and the now suspended Carol Nolan.

The reason Fianna Fáil is unique in this instance is because the other two parties have had their leadership changes. The internal battles are over within Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.

Micheál Martin’s are just beginning. The presence of deputy leader Dara Calleary and finance spokesman Michael McGrath in the anti-abortion photocall highlights the challenge he has on his hands to retain the support of all of his troops.

One TD insisted they were not surprised Mr Calleary had chosen to attend, as he had spoken at anti-abortion events recently.

McGrath, the TD said, was “now taking risks he would not normally take”. “There is so much pushing and shoving going on with regards to the leader. This referendum is providing the outlet for it but it has been under the radar for quite some time.”

The photocall of Fianna Fáil members may be just a picture in Merrion Square of a Tuesday afternoon, or it may be the photograph that marks the beginning of a potential leadership challenge against Martin.