Fianna Fáil wants more seats but not expecting overall win

Micheál Martin's leadership may be safe if seats reach 30-40.

It’s not sexy, goes against all official messages, and will do nothing to lessen the perceived arrogance of the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition, but a Fianna Fáil general election “win” is not dependent on regaining power at the first time of asking.

Instead, simply rebuilding and creating a solid platform for its next campaign will be considered a success for most members. And the say that if Dáil seats hit the 30-40 mark, this will secure another term for party leader Micheál Martin.

“Entering an election, you have to believe you can enter a government, but on a realistic level it won’t happen,” said Dublin South delegate Stephen Dickson, one of more than a dozen ard fheis delegates asked about post-vote options by the Irish Examiner.

“The first thing should be growing the party back to resembling something of what it was, and then try and get in afterwards.”

The view was shared by Kildare South delegate Fergus Sharpe, who said it is “realistic” and a better “strategic decision” to grow steadily in opposition, with both men dismissing a Fine Gael or Sinn Féin coalition.

Ogra Fianna Fáil member John O’ Toole held the same position. “If Micheál Martin comes back with 30 TDs he will be considered successful... Obviously, we want to be in government, but if it doesn’t happen, grassroots will be happy in opposition,” he said.

While weekend reports suggested some parliamentary party members could push against Mr Martin if he does not seek a Fine Gael deal, TDs and ex-ministers said the election’s focus should firstly be on steady growth.

Despite stressing the official ‘alternative government’ line, social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea said “any increase in seats is a victory” and “a springboard to go forward”, while justice spokesman Niall Collins said that if Dáil seats “double” but the party remains in opposition, that will still be “a win”.

“If we find ourselves back in opposition so be it. If the numbers improve substantially, and they will more than double, that’s a win,” he said, adding that will allow “young man” Mr Martin to “be around as leader for the next 10-15 years”.

The same view was shared by ex-education minister Batt O’ Keeffe, who said “as a realist” he would “love to see us being the main opposition”, with only Mr O’ Dea not definitively ruling out a Fine Gael coalition.

The remarks outline a more believable Fianna Fáil target than claims that a 21-seat party can achieve an 80-plus majority by running 71 candidates and ruling out coalition partners.

Independent politics professor Tim Bale said Fianna Fáil should focus on reducing the 19% 2011 gap on Fine Gael to single digits, regaining 20%-25% of the vote.

“A lot done, more to do,” in other words — and if Mr Martin achieves the former in this election, grassroots members want him to have a chance at the latter.

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