Fianna Fáil in-fighting has erupted days before a must-win by-election for the party with one well-placed figure calling Micheál Martin a “loser”.
The battle to snatch the Carlow-Kilkenny seat vacated by Fine Gael’s Phil Hogan has been marred by concern that TDs are not pulling their weight in the campaign, and renewed sniping at Mr Martin’s leadership style.
One party member said Mr Martin was a “loser” but said the party would be stuck with him whether they win or lose the by-election because it is too close to next year’s general election to risk a heave.
Though pundits had predicted the by-election was Fianna Fáil’s to lose, a stronger-than-expected challenge from Fine Gael and Sinn Féin has rattled the party and left victory uncertain.
If Fianna Fáil fails to take the seat on Friday it will be its seventh successive such defeat since the 2011 general election.
One TD said this would be an appalling situation for a party moving into a general election.
“Micheál points to the fact we have not won a by-election since the 1990s, and that is true, but what he fails to mention is that we were in government for 14 of those years and, until the early days of this present coalition, no government has won a by-election when in office,” said the TD, who did not wish to be named.
“To lose seven byelections in a row when we are trying to present ourselves as the main opposition force as we head to a general election is just simply not credible.”
Another well-placed party member said that Mr Martin was a “loser” but that the party would not move against him, partly because potential challengers were keeping their powder dry until after a disappointing general election result.
Tensions came to the fore following a poorly attended meeting of the party’s TDs and senators in Kilkenny last week, which was intended to show support for candidate Bobby Aylward.
Dublin senator Averil Power, who is a prominent advocate for civil and gay rights, used the Kilkenny meeting to urge Fianna Fáil to do more in promoting a yes vote in the marriage equality referendum, according to sources who were present.
Ms Power’s plea was given only lukewarm backing by Mr Martin, according to sources, with other TDs and senators expressing “bemusement” that they should actively back the referendum.
Though Fianna Fáil officially backs extending civil marriage rights to same-sex couples, opinion polls show its voters are the most opposed to the reform.
However, there appeared to be no immediate danger to Mr Martin’s leadership even if he does take the party to its seventh consecutive Dáil by-election defeat.
With the election expected by next March at the latest, one TD said: “We are really stuck with Micheál whatever happens.”
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins, who is seen as one of the favourites to succeed Mr Martin as party leader, said that there was no question of the party being riven by tension.
Mr Collins said the party’s TDs and senators had been campaigning hard in Carlow-Kilkenny and Fianna Fáil was in the contest to win the seat.
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