‘We’re being told nothing’: TDs distance themselves from their leaders
A number of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael members have expressed frustration with the handling of the current crisis
Micheál Martin began probing this with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during Leader’s Questions on Tuesday. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
While Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will meet on Monday in a last-ditch effort to avoid a general election, it is becoming increasingly clear that neither party is fully united behind their leaders.
Last week brought a drip feed of revelations regarding Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald’s knowledge of a legal strategy being enforced by former Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan against Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe.
Micheál Martin began probing this with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during Leader’s Questions on Tuesday and it was becoming evident Mr Martin was losing patience with the Government.
In Leinster House, his TDs were getting anxious too.
While first time deputies wanted him, to quote one, “to stick the dagger in”; the more experienced politicians were urging caution.
As the Tánaiste’s story changed yet again on Wednesday, Martin made a call to Varadkar to advise him the party could no longer express confidence in Fitzgerald.
Later that evening, the Fianna Fáil addressed a parliamentary party meeting on the matter and sought “space and time” to address the issues.
He did not tell them of the call he had made that afternoon.
Varadkar never got back to Mr Martin, despite a commitment to do so. Martin phoned the Taoiseach again on Thursday and informed him Jim O’Callaghan, the party’s spokesman on justice, was to go on RTÉ Six O’Clock News and confirm the party’s position.
Martin had not told the parliamentary party of this decision. Many of them gathered in the Dáil bar to watch O’Callaghan. Some of them cheered as he confirmed Fianna Fáil would not express confidence in Fitzgerald and would table their own motion of no confidence next week.
In the same bar, Fine Gael TDs had gathered to watch what O’Callaghan had to say.
While their main rivals cheered, they began frantically texting. One TD said he nearly fell off his chair as O’Callaghan confirmed news they did not want to hear.
O’Callaghan’s announcement changed everything for Fine Gael. Earlier in the week, Fine Gael TDs, from senior Ministerial rank to backbench TD, were acknowledging Fitzgerald was coming to the end of her political career as a result of this controversy.
Many were gleeful at the prospect.
However, Varadkar called a meeting of Ministers that evening. It soon became about more than Fitzgerald; it became about Varadkar, his leadership and his retention in justice.
Fine Gael was now willing to fight to save Fitzgerald.
The party passed a motion of confidence in the Tánaiste that night. The following morning, Martin received a seal of approval at his frontbench meeting for his stance.
However, the weekend gave many TDs time to think and as they broached the possibility of a Christmas election with their constituents, moods began to change.
One Fianna Fáil TD, who is known to be a loyal Martin supporter, said the party was in a “mad situation”. Fianna Fáil should not be running “every time Sinn Féin put down a motion”, the TD added.
This voice is a rather lone one in the party. The rest believe Martin has brought them to the top of a hill and they cannot come back down again.
However, this TD says: “The problem here is people taking us up the hill in the first place. There are only two ways to come off the top of the hill - over the top or back down the way you came up.”
Martin made an error of judgement this weekend when he called his frontbench to a meeting on Friday. The rest of the parliamentary party were excluded from the discussions. A number of TDs expressed frustration with that decision to media outlets over the weekend.
One told The Irish Times: “We are being told nothing. We learn about it through you lot (media). It is not that I disagree with the position but being left in the dark is hardly fair either, especially when we have to sell it on the doors.”
Martin has the authority of the frontbench; it seems, to continue to find a resolution to the matter. But selling anything but the resignation of Ms Fitzgerald to his dressing room could be a hard sell and could mark the beginning of the end for Martin.