Martin buys more time with frontbench shake-up

In recent months, the smell of newness around the Dáil must have been akin to a shiny car straight out of the garage showroom for Micheál Martin.

A new Taoiseach, a new leader of Sinn Féin, new politics ... but not such a new Fianna Fáil.

As leader of a worn-down party, the morally wounded Micheál Martin had to do something or perhaps face the chop himself at some stage. Amid plummeting polls, divisions on the Eighth Amendment splintering the party, and the ever-present threat of a general election, Mr Martin took the path of least resistance and reshuffled his frontbench.

But in doing so he has undoubtedly piled more pressure onto his shoulders. While politicians will vehemently cling to the line that they never take any heed of polls, for members of Fianna Fáil, his changes must bring about a boost for the party.

Perhaps Mr Martin’s one saving grace is the fact that he has very few rivals strong enough to take him on.

By selecting Dara Calleary, viewed as safe and steady but very popular in the party, as deputy leader, Mr Martin cleverly freed up a position on his front bench — although a number of TDs are sure to have been disappointed when they didn’t get a call yesterday afternoon.

The extra space was snapped up by whippersnapper Jack Chambers who holds a seat in Dublin West, the same constituency as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

His elevation to the frontbench and the appointment of Darragh O’Brien as spokesman on Housing, Planning, and Local Government undoubtedly adds a Dublin-centric slant to the party.

Fianna Fáil, who has six TDs in Dublin, has identified the capital as a major area of growth in the next general election. Yet some backbenchers have privately expressed concerns that they risk jeopardising the gains made outside Dublin in the last election by overly focusing on urban constituencies.

“If you focus too much on what you don’t have, you might lose what you do have,” one TD said.

Mr Martin must also remember those who went against him in the Dáil vote on holding a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment. The Fianna Fáil leader was acknowledged when he broke away from his long-held conservative position on abortion to speak out in favour of repealing the eighth amendment and went as far as backing the 12-week recommendation of the Oireachtas committee. This, to many, appeared to backfire with more than half of his TDs voting down the idea of holding a referendum.

By making Mr Calleary his deputy, who has strong conservative views on abortion, Mr Martin moved to appease those in the party who have concerns about repeal.

Were yesterday’s changes enough to make a slightly jaded party seem new? Probably not, but they will have bought its leader some time.


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