Dan Danaher surveyed local FF council members and found deep concern over opinion poll ratings and failure to tackle the housing crisis
A MAJORITY of Clare Fianna Fáil councillors expect a new party leader will be elected once Micheál Martin’s term as Taoiseach ends when Leo Varadkar takes over at the helm of the government.
Most of the councillors, who were interviewed by The Clare Champion, complained there is no strong replacement for Deputy Martin that is head and shoulders above the other contenders.
Councillor Alan O’Callaghan said the difficulties experienced by Fianna Fáil were apparent from the last General Election, and noted his views haven’t changed on the party’s disappointing results in opinion polls.
The East Clare Councillor said there are huge concerns about the future direction of the party amongst grass roots rank and file members.
He said the lack of affordable and social housing is a big problem in Clare and throughout the country, and stressed this is one of the key issues to be seriously tackled if the party wants to rejuvenate its flagging fortunes.
If the party’s poor showing in the Dublin Bay South by-election is replicated at the next General Election, he warned the party would struggle to hold its existing seat in Clare, which is held by Deputy Cathal Crowe.
While the government are doing a good job overall dealing with the pandemic, he expressed concern this is not reflected in opinion polls for Fianna Fáil.
“People are looking for change. A national government should have been put in place after the last General Election.”
While Councillor Tony O’Brien doesn’t believe Micheál Martin should lead the party into the next General Election, he is not in favour of changing the leadership once his term of Taoiseach comes to an end.
Councillor O’Brien attributed the party’s poor showing in opinion polls to the lack of credible leadership candidates from a parliamentary party with too many “yes men”, and very few deputies showing any leadership material.
He blamed the party’s demise on the controversial “confidence and supply” deal in 2016, which kept Fine Gael in government, and the current Programme for Government instead of agreeing a new national government.
“Politically, Fianna Fáil is in no-man’s land,” said Councillor O’Brien. “The national party executive has cut off the grass roots. We are on a path to self-destruction. We need to get back to the grass roots and start serving people as a priority.”
Councillor Pat Daly proposed the party should appoint a deputy leader who would succeed the Taoiseach when he steps down, and outlined this deputy would gain valuable experience in this role in the intervening period.
He believes Fianna Fail needs a fresh face at the helm and a new style of leadership.
“Fianna Fáil are down to 12 or 13% in some opinion polls while Fine Gael are getting 29% for making the same government decisions. I can’t understand it. There is something wrong somewhere.”
Councillor Shane Talty believes the change in Taoiseach will provide an ideal opportunity for a change in Fianna Fáil leadership.
“Fianna Fáil are paying the price for confidence and supply. It went on for far longer than it should have ever done. It was a calamity for the party.
“The Dublin Bay South result was not a surprise. Maybe the party would have been better off not to field a candidate because there was never a possibility of winning a seat there.
“There needs to be a radical change in the message and who they are selling the message to. Fianna Fáil are attempting to appeal to a cohort of voters who will not vote for them. Other parties focus on a demographic that might consider voting for them.”
Councillor Pat Hayes is disappointed that An Taoiseach hasn’t improved Fianna Fáil ratings in opinion polls, albeit it is one of the worst times to be Taoiseach trying to “stop start” the country in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said the party needs to decide on who it is representing, and what is stands for, rather than trying to be a catch-all party, which is more important to resolve than the party leadership.
“There has to be refocus and more cohesion within the party.”
Councillor Pat O’Gorman said Martin should remain as party leader and Taoiseach while the country is battling a global pandemic, and added the party leadership can be examined when his term at the helm of the country is finished, but not before this.
Councillor P J Kelly said the party leadership has to be examined immediately after the change of Taoiseach.
“The traditional base in rural Ireland has been neglected,” opined Councillor Kelly. “The party has lost contact with rural Ireland. Previously, we had rural water grants and several other rural development schemes, now the funding is directed to urban areas.”
Councillor Pat McMahon said the party needs to develop much clearer policies and decide who they wanted to represent.
Stressing he was not “anti-Micheál Martin, Councillor McMahon believes a change of leadership is needed as the “discontent is growing louder”.
He would like to see a new young leader with a new style of leadership, and a Dáil deputy that is not part of, or linked to, the old guard of the party.
Councillor Cillian Murphy said a lot of good work is being done in areas like housing, but this is not being reflected in the party’s support or opinion polls.
Praising Micheál Martin for taking unpopular decisions like the introduction of the indoor smoking ban years ago, which proved to be the right decision, he believes the party leadership is a “poisoned chalice” and a very difficult job that few candidates would be interested now in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Councillor Bill Chambers believes this is the wrong time to change the party leader, and feels Deputy Martin is doing a good job under difficult circumstances.
Acknowledging 4.6% was a poor return for Fianna Fáil in the Dublin Bay South by-election, he pointed out government parties rarely win by-elections, and noted the turnout was very low with only 34.7% casting their vote.