The Irish Times view on byelection recriminations within Fianna Fáil

Do those agitating for the ousting of Micheál Martin have any idea how their actions appear to the public?

The Dublin Bay South byelection result was a blow to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, but a disaster for his presumed rival Jim O’Callaghan (left). File photograph: Brian Lawless/ PA Wire

The Dublin Bay South byelection result was a blow to Taoiseach Micheál Martin, but a disaster for his presumed rival Jim O’Callaghan (left). File photograph: Brian Lawless/ PA Wire

 

The three Government parties each experienced disappointing results in last week’s Dublin Bay South byelection. Fine Gael lost its seat in a traditional heartland. The Greens’ vote collapsed in its leader’s constituency. Yet a few days later, it is only Fianna Fáil which has chosen to torment itself publicly about the outcome.

Senior backbencher Barry Cowen has demanded a reckoning at the parliamentary party, and some of his colleagues apparently agree. There are reports of an attempt to drum up support for a no-confidence motion in party leader and Taoiseach Micheál Martin. We have become accustomed to some Fianna Fáil TDs attacking their leader in ever more florid terms in the semi-public forum of the parliamentary party meetings, but to propose a motion of no-confidence would take matters to a new level.

The latest push against Martin stems from dissatisfaction with him amongst the ranks of his own TDs – many of whom have failed to be promoted by him – rather than any idea of a clear alternative. The byelection result was a blow to Martin, but a disaster for his presumed rival Jim O’Callaghan, sitting TD and director of elections in the Dublin Bay South constituency. O’Callaghan says he is opposed to a motion of no-confidence, but also suggests that the leadership of the party should change before the next election. Nobody is proposing that Fianna Fáil should pull out of Government.

Scattered and shifting landscape

There are all sorts of questions to be asked about the future of Fianna Fáil, for most of the State’s history its dominant political force but now struggling to adapt to its role as one of three medium-sized parties in a scattered and shifting political landscape. But the party faces more pressing matters on behalf of the public in Government right now. In the midst of a pandemic, with crucial decisions required about how the reopening should be balanced against the oncoming wave of delta infections, a leadership heave would look to many people outside the party as hugely irresponsible. Do those agitating for the ousting of Martin have any idea how their actions appear to the public?

Martin’s management of his TDs has no doubt left much to be desired; some of them appear to be in a permanent state of agitation about their leader. But Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI polls show his public satisfaction ratings are high, and Fianna Fáil voters – as opposed to its TDs – are squarely behind him.

Under the coalition agreement, Martin has a year-and-a-half to go as Taoiseach and while it may be hard to see his TDs letting him slot into the role of Tánaiste and continuing to lead the party after that, a heave by Fianna Fáil TDs now would risk alienating themselves even further from a public likely to have little patience for self-serving political games.

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