'We need to draw a line': FF TDs hit out at party negativity and criticise leaks to media

A raft of new measures to improve the lot of the Fianna Fáil party have been presented to TDs and Senators tonight as it reels from a historically low poll rating.
'We need to draw a line': FF TDs hit out at party negativity and criticise leaks to media

The new procedures, seen by the Irish Examiner, involve new rules for PP meetings, the establishment of new policy groups, a new group to improve relations between ministers and TDs and promises to improve communications.

Junior Finance Minister Sean Fleming is to chair Fianna Fáil’s review into its disastrous General Election campaign in February, the parliamentary party has been told.

At the first meeting since the party’s support was at just 10% in a Red C poll in the Business Post, TDs and Senators hit out at the level of leaks to the media in recent weeks.

The two-hour meeting was conducted over Zoom.

Clare TD Cathal Crowe said people have been using the parliamentary meeting to “settle scores” and that the leaks are damaging the party. 

“Enough is enough, we need to draw a line,” he said.

Cork South West TD Christopher O’Sullivan said the negativity in the parliamentary party is “sickening” and said he agreed with Mr Crowe. 

He called for more positivity while Senator Lisa Chambers said the party needs to support one another, be united and be a team.

Kildare Senator and former TD Fiona O’Loughlin also hit out at the negativity within the party, saying it is deeply unhelpful.

Kildare TD James Lawless reportedly hit out at various media organisations saying leaks to the Irish Examiner have been “unhelpful” and the Irish Independent has “become a red top”.

It is understood that Mr Lawless criticised Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on communications around Covid and the recent lockdowns in Kildare, Laois and Offaly.

The Kildare TD told the meeting that the county lockdown was a "crude measure" and people did not believe it was the right decision.

While Stephen Donnelly may have claimed the restrictions had worked, people on the ground don't feel that and instead feel hard done by, Mr Lawless told the parliamentary party.

He said any future local lockdowns would have to be "targeted and focused" and should be data driven.

He said all data should be made public so people understand why decisions on restrictions and lockdowns are being taken.

Mr Donnelly was in attendance at the meeting and briefed the party on the Living with Covid plan and the Winter Plan, but said the party must “call out” the Opposition and the media who are pushing the line the plan is confusing.

He said the plan was developed by experts and they are being undermined.

Sligo TD Marc MacSharry raised the issue of the Leaving Cert but also used his contribution to explain the context of his comments about the Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn last week.

Mr MacSharry said his comments had been misrepresented by the Taoiseach in the media, and what he said was that the nightly Nphet briefings were fuelling this polarisation in society. He said he contacted Dr Glynn to explain the context to his comments.

Mr MacSharry referenced his first ever parliamentary party meeting where Michael Woods said dissent is important and without it politics is merely public administration.

At the end, Taoiseach Micheál Martin called on the party to rally, to realise the gravity of the situation facing the country, adding “come to me, my door is open.” 

In relation to Covid, Mr Martin said the situation is particularly serious and moving up to another level is a significant step and would have significant economic implications.

He said there is a particular concern about household clusters and that numbers are rising but stopped short of specifying whether the capital will move to level 3 this week.

Senator Ned O’Sullivan said the party has a wonderful leader and the party needs to row in behind Mr Martin, adding he didn’t accept Eamon O’Cuiv’s call for a new leader.

A raft of new measures to improve the lot of the Fianna Fáil party have been presented to TDs and Senators tonight as it reels from a historically low poll rating.

Chief Whip Jack Chambers has presented the document at tonight’s parliamentary party (PP) meeting, being held over Zoom.

The new procedures, seen by the Irish Examiner, involve new rules for PP meetings, the establishment of new policy groups, a new group to improve relations between ministers and TDs and promises to improve communications.

The document is a response to visceral criticism of Taoiseach Micheál Martin and his “lack of leadership”.

The five-point plan says that Parliamentary Party meetings will be scheduled with a structured agenda to maximise the benefit from discussions.

“Every week there will be a substantive update from a Minister to be selected based on the priority issue of the week or to give a general update on their area of responsibility. 

"Once approximately every 4 weeks a guest speaker will be arranged on a specific theme/topic and this speaker will address the party at a different time to the weekly parliamentary party,” the document states.

The document also commits that new thematic policy groupings will be established with policy areas grouped into 6 areas. 

Each group shall contain the relevant members of the Oireachtas Committee and line Ministers in each respective Department.

The groups are 1) Finance/Public Expenditure, Enterprise and Social Protection 2) Health 3) Education, Justice, Childcare 4) Housing, Local Government and Transport 5) Agriculture and Rural Affairs and 6) Brexit, Foreign Affairs and Arts.

“Each group shall meet every two to three weeks to discuss forthcoming policy areas for legislative focus or policy change. 

"This will enhance collaboration and discussion of the implementation for the programme for government. 

"It will also enable key communications campaigns to be developed and planned for the forthcoming month between Ministers and the parliamentary party,” the document states.

"The third point in the plan commits to creating a new Parliamentary party/Ministerial structure.

“Three members of the parliamentary party, the Chief Whip and two other Ministers will meet every two weeks to discuss any areas of concern, communications, policy development, programme for government delivery. 

"This will also provide an important forum to have an ongoing review to ensure the effectiveness of policy groups; rectify any communications challenges or policy feedback relating to local or national issues from the parliamentary party which can be followed up on with the respective Ministers,” the document reveals.

The document also states that the Taoiseach will appoint a member of the parliamentary party to liaise with the Ógra Central Officer Board regularly as well as engaging with the broader Ógra membership.

The document also promises to strengthen the communications system and the structure of information flows.

“A named member of the press/research team will triage and regularly send updates to each member of the parliamentary party and/or Councillors (through FFHQ). They will also send important social media/communications campaigns for members to post on their social media platforms. 

"Each lead Minister in the policy group needs to take on the responsibility to brief the group but also ensure policy updates are communicated to this named person in advance so updates are regular, timely and meaningful,” the document states.

The meeting is ongoing.

 

The Chambers Plan in Full:

 

1. Parliamentary Party Meetings: Weekly parliamentary party meetings will be scheduled with a structured agenda to maximise the benefit from discussions.

Every week there will be a substantive update from a Minister to be selected based on the priority issue of the week or to give a general update on their area of responsibility. 

Once approximately every 4 weeks a guest speaker will be arranged on a specific theme/topic and this speaker will address the party at a different time to the weekly parliamentary party. 

Each parliamentary party meeting shall receive an update from a nominated member/rapporteur of the policy groupings.

 

2. Policy Groupings: A new thematic policy grouping will be established with policy areas grouped into 6 areas. 

Each group shall contain the relevant members of the Oireachtas Committee and line Ministers in each respective Department. 

Other members of the parliamentary party may also join the group if they have a special interest in that thematic area. 

A structured agenda will be developed for each policy group to manage their business but it is encouraged that all meetings will cover a review of policy and communications since the last meeting in the respective areas as well as planning the next three weeks. 

Each policy grouping should also map a strategic 6 month plan for policy and communications. 

Each relevant FF researcher/press officer/social media officer will also attend. Each group shall meet every two to three weeks to discuss forthcoming policy areas for legislative focus or policy chang.

Annie Keegan and Martin Phelan will be working with me in supporting the organisation and administration of the new policy groups.

This will enhance collaboration and discussion of the implementation for the programme for government. 

It will also enable key communications campaigns to be developed and planned for the forthcoming month between Ministers and the parliamentary party.

Each group will hold an open forum for all members of the parliamentary party every 6 weeks (6 core groups so the aim is to schedule one open forum per week in addition to the parliamentary party meeting) for broader discussion of objectives, policy implementation, policy ideas, feedback etc. 

This will also be an important forum for areas of concern to be flagged and followed up by the respective to report back at the next meeting of the group. 

A rapporteur (non- Minister) will be nominated by each policy group who will report to the parliamentary party meetings with progress/updates on the discussions for the respective thematic area. 

This will enhance party policy development, engagement with the parliamentary party and enable a more effective/cohesive cross party communications platform. 

This policy grouping should broaden their remit and reach with the party with meetings with the grassroots membership, party units and with Ógra. 

These groups will co-ordinate this structured outreach through liaison with party organisers in FFHQ. 

This will help reinforce grassroots involvement and input in party policy.

Policy Groups:

Group 1:

• Finance/Public Expenditure/Insurance

• Enterprise/Trade/Employment

• Social Protection

Group 2:

• Healthcare-Mental Health-Older People, Disability/Drugs/Mental Health/Covid/Public Health

Group 3:

• Education-Higher Education, Special Education

• Childcare

• Justice, Equality, Law Reform,

Group 4:

• Housing, homelessness, Local Government, Heritage, Community

• Transport, & Climate Action

Group 5:

• Agriculture, Rural affairs, Regional development

Group 6:

• Foreign Affairs, Defence, Brexit, Shared Island, EU Affairs

• Arts, Culture, Media, Sport, Gaeltacht, Tourism

3. Ministerial/Parliamentary Party Co-ordination Group: A new Parliamentary party/Ministerial structure will be established as the Taoiseach outlined in his address to the parliamentary meeting in June 2020. 

Three members of the parliamentary party, the Chief Whip and two other Ministers will meet every two weeks to discuss any areas of concern, communications, policy development, programme for government delivery. 

This will also provide an important forum to have an ongoing review to ensure the effectiveness of policy groups; rectify any communications challenges or policy feedback relating to local or national issues from the parliamentary party which can be followed up on with the respective Ministers.

 

4. Ógra FF: The Taoiseach will appoint a member of the parliamentary party to liaise with the Ógra Central Officer Board regularly as well as engaging with the broader Ógra membership. 

This will help reinforce the positive engagement prior to the programme for government discussions and strengthen recruitment and retention with the ambition to have an active Ogra unit in every constituency. 

It also helps collaboration and aligns new national communications campaigns emanating out of the policy groups with the Ógra leadership.

 

5. Communications Structure: We will strengthen the communications system and the structure of information flows. 

A named member of the press/research team will triage and regularly send updates to each member of the parliamentary party and/or Councillors (through FFHQ). 

They will also send important social media/communications campaigns for members to post on their social media platforms. 

Each lead Minister in the policy group needs to take on the responsibility to brief the group but also ensure policy updates are communicated to this named person in advance so updates are regular, timely and meaningful.

 

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