No regrets at silent treatment over stability treaty: Ó Cuív

On one thing, Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív is certain: That he was right and, as a result, his party leader, Micheál Martin, was wrong on the decision to back the stability treaty referendum earlier this year.

More than six months have passed since the Irish people voted to accept the treaty which would lead to the establishment of the EU’s permanent rescue fund, the ESM.

But, as Mr Ó Cuív points out, the Government has still not secured any agreement from its EU partners on reducing the burden of the country’s bank debt on the Irish state and, by extension, its people.

The Galway West TD lost the deputy leadership of the party in February after openly defying Mr Martin by calling for a no vote.

“When I believed so sincerely in that point of view, I think it was important to articulate it,” he tells the Irish Examiner.

His argument — centred on the point that the treaty should not be passed without a better deal on bank debt — gained significant support among the party grassroots.

Now, he says, he still meets Fianna Fáil people who tell him he should have left the party instead of obeying the leader’s orders during the referendum campaign to remain silent on the issue.

“The thing that swung me to make the decision I made is that I got a very strong impression that a lot of Fianna Fáil people who actually agreed with my view on the issue would not leave Fianna Fáil and that it’s better to fight theses issues within the party than without,” says Mr Ó Cuív.

But his decision to stay in the party is something he is not entirely clear about: “I’m satisfied myself that I made the right choice. But it’s not a black-and-white certainty either.”

If staying in the party is something he might not be sure about, then he is certain that he has “no regrets” about the position he took in relation to the fiscal compact.

“Now we have come to the end of 2012 and we find no tangible progress in relation to dealing with the bank debt issue, my view validates the view I had at the time, that we had a unique opportunity to deal with this in the context of the fiscal treaty,” says Mr Ó Cuív.

Was it fair, then, that he was told not to express his view at the time, or be faced with the possibility of being thrown out of the party?

“I accepted the ruling that was the ruling and that’s it. I had a choice to stay in or stay out and it was a very difficult choice,” says Mr Ó Cuív.

Asked to describe relations now between himself and Mr Martin, he responds with one word — “fine” — before pointing out that he is now back on the front bench.

He does not believe that Mr Martin will, at this stage, fill the position of deputy leader of the party which has been vacant for 10 months.

The Galway West TD does not dare to predict how long it might take Fianna Fáil to get back into power, if ever.

He says Fine Gael and Labour will fall from their “dual peak” back down to 40% between them.

“As the tide subsides, the question is whether the votes return to Fianna Fáil or do they go to Sinn Féin?” he asks. “It’s to early to say definitively. But after an initial flurry for Sinn Féin, the persistent hard work of Fianna Fáil is beginning to pay off.”

Mr Ó Cuív ran for party leadership following the resignation of Brian Cowen almost two years ago. So does he still hold leadership ambitions?

“I ran for the party leadership and Micheál Martin won the contest and that’s the end of that issue,” he says.

“There is no vacancy, no question. And who knows where we’ll all be in five years’ time?”

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