Taoiseach says meeting restored sense of unity within Fianna Fáil

Some TDs say party could be thrown into fresh crisis over Coveney vote next week

Taoiseach Micheál Martin at the Fianna Fáil think-in at the Slieve Russell Hotel. Photograph: Conor McCabe Photography

Taoiseach Micheál Martin at the Fianna Fáil think-in at the Slieve Russell Hotel. Photograph: Conor McCabe Photography

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said a marathon special meeting held by Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators has succeeded in restoring a sense of unity and common purpose within the party.

The two-day meeting at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan was organised ostensibly to discuss a critical review of the party’s poor performance in the 2020 general election, but it also broached issues that have emerged since it entered Government. These included Mr Martin’s performance as Taoiseach and the controversy surrounding the appointment of former minister Katherine Zappone as special envoy to the UN for freedom of expression.

Speaking to the media towards the end of the two-day event, Mr Martin said: “It was a very open and honest meeting. It has been lengthy because members have had the opportunity to speak fully and comprehensively on their views on the last election, where the party is and where we can advance.”

The review into the party’s failings in the 2020 election was carried out by a committee chaired by Minister of State Seán Fleming.

It strongly criticised shortcomings in the party’s election strategy and campaign management, the negative impact of ‘Votegate’ in terms of trusting Fianna Fáil candidates, a very poor social media presence, a perception the party had opposed repealing the Eighth Amendment on abortion, as well as an over-focus on attacking Sinn Féin during the campaign.

A survey of the membership also found there was a high level of uncertainty among members under 65 years old as to what the party represented and stood for at present.

In all, there were 57 recommendations for change.

Mr Martin said there was “collective willingness to grow and work together” and he undertook to implement the recommendations while the party was still in government.

“Historically there has always been that challenge in government, where you are in parallel looking after the country while promoting the party. That will take significant skill sets, [BUT]I will focus on that as a leader.”

Mr Martin acknowledged there were critics of his leadership within the party.

“We will always have criticism. There would be something wrong if we had unanimity of views,” he said. However, he added, the parliamentary party had united on its common purpose and objectives.

Think-in

Several Fianna Fáil sources said they hoped the think-in would be cathartic f and that the parliamentary party would put divisions behind it as it faced into the new political term.

TDs spent many hours between Thursday and Friday discussing their feelings about the state of Fianna Fáil and its prospects for the future. The discussion on the review was scheduled to conclude on Thursday evening but continued for most of the second day of the meeting and did not conclude until 6pm.

Other sources were more sceptical of the outcome, saying a core group of opponents to Mr Martin’s leadership remain and will continue to be critical of him. His success, sources said, was in reassuring the middle ground of TDs that they would be listened to and would have an input into leadership decisions.

A number of TDs said Mr Martin had essentially controlled the agenda and thrust of the meeting from the start and had been successful in reasserting his authority among TDs and Senators, while simultaneously staving off any discussion on the status of his leadership.

However, several of the party’s TDs who were present at the meeting said that outcome could be short-lived and the party might be thrown into a fresh crisis if Sinn Féin tables a motion of no confidence in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

Those at the meeting said there was no certainty that two TDs in particular – John McGuinness (Kilkenny) and Marc MacSharry (Sligo) – would comply with the three-line whip that will be imposed for the vote.

Some 50 of the party’s TDs, Senators as well as Dublin MEP Barry Andrews spoke during the meeting.

One of Fianna Fáil’s two MEPs, Billy Kelleher, has called for a more permanent independent body to be set up to reverse the malaise in party support.

Mr Kelleher, who was unable to attend the meeting, wrote to the party chairman saying the review of the 2020 General Election was insufficient and a deep examination needed to be conducted of why the party continues to fail to attract voters.

“Such a review must be independent of the party. Nothing can be left off the table and if uncomfortable truths are unearthed, we must deal with them,” he wrote.

He said the party needed a long-term review to discover the underlying causes of why so few people vote for the party.

“Ireland is now a dynamic, young and progressive country” he wrote.

“Voters do not see Fianna Fáíl in the same way, in fact they see us as the antithesis of modern Ireland.”