Fianna Fáil should consider holding a contest for the party’s vacant deputy leader position once Micheál Martin ends his term as Taoiseach, a backbench TD has suggested.
Pádraig O’Sullivan from Cork North West has said a contest could be helpful to the part in identifying the next generation of potential leaders in the party.
Mr Martin will complete his term as Taoiseach on December 17th, assuming the role of Tánaiste until the next election in 2025 if the Government lasts its full term.
If Mr Martin remains leader until 2025 he will have been longest-serving Fianna Fáil leader after Éamon de Valera, having served over 14 years, narrowly exceeding the leadership spans of both Bertie Ahern and Jack Lynch.
The thinking behind Mr O’Sullivan’s proposal is that a competitive contest for the deputy leadership would not impact Mr Martin nor the party’s leadership structure but would allow ambitious parliamentarians set out their stalls to colleagues.
The Labour Party holds contest for its two top positions, leader and deputy leader. The last time the deputy leadership was contested in 2014, Tipperary TD Alan Kelly defeated Cork East Deputy Sean Sherlock.
Mr Kelly stood in the leadership contest in 2020 and defeated Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. However, he stood down earlier this year after losing the confidence of his parliamentary party.
The position of deputy leader in Fianna Fáil has been vacant since August 2020 when then-holder Dara Calleary resigned as Minister for Agriculture during the “Golfgate” controversy.
The position of deputy leader of Fianna Fáil is in the gift of the party leader. Despite the issue coming up several times at parliamentary party meetings, Mr Martin has decided not to fill the role.
Mr Calleary became the deputy leader in 2018 after the previous incumbent, Éamon Ó Cuív was fired from the Fianna Fáil front bench. Mr Ó Cuív, a deputy for Galway West, had been appointed to that role in 2012. Previous holders have included Mary Hanafin, Brian Lenihan jnr, Brian Lenihan snr, and Brian Cowen.
Privately there were mixed views about Mr O’Sullivan’s proposals among colleagues. A number said that the position itself has little status or power in practice. One TD said it would be hard to see it as anything other than the prelude to a leadership challenge.
The party has been consistently lagging behind Sinn Féin in recent Irish Times polls. The latest poll in late October showed Fianna Fáil support at 21 per cent, compared to 22 per cent for Fine Gael and 35 per cent for Sinn Féin.
One experienced parliamentarian told The Irish Times that despite Mr Martin’s longevity as leader, they could not see him being replaced in advance of the next general election.
“I can’t see him being challenged, I don’t think there is anybody there to challenge him. If he steps down before the next general election – that decision will be made by himself, not by others.”