Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin was struggling to contain a crisis of credibility after one of the party’s most high-profile figures made an explosive exit denouncing his leadership.
Scrambling to try and limit the political damage unleashed by Dublin senator Averil Power’s devastating condemnation of the party in which she branded former colleagues “cynical cowards” incapable of change,
Mr Martin traded insults with her as the ugly row overshadowed Fianna Fáil’s first byelection win in nearly two decades.
Some Fianna Fáil TDs privately expressed concern at Mr Martin’s ability to get a grip on the party, but said there was unlikely to be a heave this close to the looming general election.
Seen as one of the party’s brightest stars, and a possible future leader, Ms Power’s departure, and the sheer vehemence of her trashing of the party, took Fianna Fáilers by surprise.
Branding the party “unfit for Government”, Ms Power denounced Mr Martin as a “leader without followers” as she insisted the party was unable to modernise.
Fianna Fáil TDs despaired at the controversy which erupted just days after the party finally won a Dáil byelection with victory in Carlow-Kilkenny.
One deputy said: “Micheál does have a credibility issue, but it is just too close to an election to risk a heave.”
In an unseemly exchange of name-calling, Mr Martin dismissed Ms Power as being “nasty and vindictive” as he insisted political vanity, and not principles, were at the root of her decision to quit the party.
Mr Martin also said the senator was not telling the truth when Ms Power said she had been laughed at during a parliamentary meeting when she urged colleagues to do more to support the marriage equality campaign.
Mr Martin described Ms Power’s claims as a “gross distortion” of what really happened.
Ms Power stood over her version of events, and insisted she had no problem with Seán Haughey running in her Dublin Bay North constituency.
Ms Power disputed Mr Martin’s claims she asked him to take Mr Haughey off the ticket to give her a clear run, stating that party chiefs had been the ones suggesting a single candidate strategy.
In a damning blow to the party, Ms Power said she could have struggled through if she believed the only problem was Mr Martin, but she said the party as a whole was “out of touch” with ordinary people and lacked any prospect of modernisation.
Ms Power accused the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party of “cynical cowardice” in the way it approached the marriage equality campaign as she said colleagues refused to canvass for the reform for fear of alienating core voters despite gay marriage being party policy.
Ms Power also accused the party’s front bench of “pulling in different directions” and prioritising their personal political success over the needs of the party and the country.
Ms Power said she would remain an independent senator before deciding whether or not to contest the general election which must be held before next spring.
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