A failure to win a seat in today’s Dáil by-elections will not be linked to questions around Micheál Martin’s leadership of Fianna Fáil, according to the party’s finance spokesperson, Michael McGrath.
A drop in support for Fianna Fáil in the latest opinion poll has increased the pressure on Mr Martin as voters go to the polls in two constituencies today.
The party’s Galway-West TD, Éamon Ó’Cuív questioned the party’s strategy and asked whether Fianna Fáil wants to be a party with broad republican ideals or “are we a party of the middle classes, or the upper middle classes”.
A five point drop, down to 20%, means Mr Martin badly needs a win from his Roscommon-South Leitrim candidate, Ivan Connaughton, to prove he is leading his party towards a comeback.
The party’s TDs argue that it got the highest vote share in the May local elections — and this matters more than the Ipsos MRBI poll published yesterday.
“I think politics is becoming increasingly volatile, we are going to see large swings from one poll to another so we are not overly concerned about the 20% rating,” said Mr McGrath.
“The by-elections will give a further indication where the party is at,” he said, but added that “we equally acknowledge that winning a by-election is a very difficult task.”
The Cork South Central TD, who has been mentioned as a possible future leader of the party, said: “I wouldn’t be linking the by-election results to a question over the party leadership. Micheál Martin continues to have strong support within the parliamentary party.”
Party strategists believe 30-year-old Mr Connaughton will need about 30% of first preference votes to win today’s contest, as he will be less transfer friendly than his closest rival, Michael Fitzmaurice — the Independent candidate supported by MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.
Sinn Féin’s candidate, Martin Kenny, is also in contention to win the seat. The party’s candidate in the Dublin South West by-election, Cathal King, is the hot favourite to take the seat there.
A double victory would be a major boost to Sinn Féin which is now the most popular party in the country — joint with Fine Gael at 24%.
The opinion poll published yesterday shows that the controversy over the appointment of Seanad candidate, John McNulty, to a State board has not damaged support for Fine Gael.
It remained unchanged at 24% meaning the McNulty controversy either failed to dampen support or neutralised any bounce it might have received from positive economic news.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved