‘Tough talk and sharp talk’ at FF internal meeting

Party report made ‘fair points’ on some failings and weaknesses, Martin concedes

Taoiseach Micheál Martin at the Fianna Fáil think-in at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Co Cavan. Photograph: Conor McCabe/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin at the Fianna Fáil think-in at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Co Cavan. Photograph: Conor McCabe/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has accepted his decision to extend the confidence-and-supply agreement in the last government created difficulties for Fianna Fáil in the 2020 general election, as did the public perception that his party did not support repeal of the Eighth Amendment on abortion.

He was speaking at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Co Cavan ahead of a special meeting of the parliamentary party which discussed a hard-hitting review of Fianna Fáil’s approach to the 2020 general election.

Mr Martin conceded the report had made “fair points” on some of the failings and weaknesses that led to its poor performance in that election.

However, he insisted his leadership of the party was not an issue and that he would continue as leader after he steps down as Taoiseach in December 2022.

“I will be taking up the position as Tánaiste [on that date]. We have entered a coalition Government. We have made commitments in respect of that and we are going to follow through on those commitments.

“It’s not about personality, it’s about the issues.”

Asked about ongoing criticism of his leadership within the party, he dismissed the notion of a challenge. “I have been a member of the parliamentary party for many years. I have rarely seen unanimity on many issues, including who leads the party. So that’s not news.”

Recommendations

The report by a committee chaired by Minister of State Seán Fleming contained 57 recommendations for change.

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; and a perception that 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 as to what the party represented and stood for at present.

There was general agreement from Fianna Fáil TDs and senators entering the meeting that no motion of confidence would be tabled against Mr Martin.

Party representatives said in advance they expected a tough meeting, something that would not be an “easy day” for the party.

“When we had 70 and 80 seats we were nearly all things to all people,” said Senator Eugene Murphy from Roscommon, who lost his Dáil seat in 2020.

“Now we really have a tough decision to make. Those days are gone in Irish politics. Whatever decisions we take now will not please everybody. We need to take that step. We have to clearly decide what and who we represent. I sincerely hope we can get some shape on that [at the meeting].

“There is no talk about a motion of no confidence. I think there will be a lot of tough talk and sharp talk,” he added.

Cavan TD Niamh Smyth from Cavan said there was “pent-up excitement about having that opportunity to have robust discussion. Still, it will not be an easy day for the party”.

Waterford TD Mary Butler was one of those who demanded that phones be handed over to prevent leaks.

“I can’t even articulate how much leaking irritates me. It has got to the point that if I have something to say I rarely say it. I would ask the people doing it, please stop. When we are discussing internal policy matters, to have it live-tweeted out of the meeting to the media is a no-go for me.”