Daniel McConnell: O'Callaghan biding his time as Fianna Fáil flounders

Jim O’Callaghan has emerged, for right or for wrong, as the person most likely to challenge Micheál Martin for control of their embattled party.
Daniel McConnell: O'Callaghan biding his time as Fianna Fáil flounders

O’Callaghan has emerged, for right or for wrong, as the person most likely to challenge Micheál Martin for control of their embattled party. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

It was the kind of answer which would send a chill down the spine of any political leader.

"It would be an honour for any member of Fianna Fáil to lead the party. I can't predict the future. I'm certainly not going to say I'm not interested,” replied Jim O’Callaghan yesterday when asked did he want to lead his party.

O’Callaghan has emerged, for right or for wrong, as the person most likely to challenge Micheál Martin for control of their embattled party.

The Dublin-based senior counsel, who has fallen out of favour and was snubbed for ministerial preferment by the Taoiseach, is seen by many within the party as an ideal contender to succeed.

As one put it, there is something deliciously attractive to the Jim O’Callaghan narrative.

O’Callaghan has been, by his own admission on the Claire Byrne show, accepting invitations from local cumanns all over the country.

Insisting it is his responsibility as a “senior backbench TD”, others in his party see his movements as something more significant.

Even the timing of O’Callaghan’s interview was seen as important in the week the party’s poll rating was stated at just 10% in the Business Post poll.

He acknowledged the poll was “disappointing” but in his best Brian Lenihan manner, O’Callaghan professed his loyalty and support for his leader.

“Micheál Martin has my support, he is doing a good job. I want him to succeed and I want the country to succeed. I am willing to play my part,” he said.

He also said that at a point when a vacancy arises and if colleagues want to nominate him, it is likely he will go for it then.

The Dublin Bay South TD stressed that he is not interested in doing anything which would undermine Mr Martin, even though he is aware that political journalism thrives on division and conflict.

O’Callaghan was also speaking in the wake of an interesting parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night where there were widespread complaints about the negativity currently circulating around the party.

At that meeting, Martin said he welcomed constructive engagement from his TDs and that his door is always open. Many within the party would say it has rarely been that way with a leader who is tolerated rather than loved by his own troops.

Such turmoil was given voice in the Dáil chamber by Kilkenny TD John McGuinness yesterday.

He lashed out at Government Ministers in his own party who he accused of "bluff" and "spin".
"This House is used as a sounding board, a relief valve for people to get up, including myself, and say whatever you'd like to say on that particular topic, or specific issue in their own constituencies. 

"You may as well be whistling past the graveyard, because the response generally from ministers is - and these are ministers that at one time were in opposition - the only answer they will give is the one that's handed to them by civil servants.

"I'm not blaming the civil servants, I'm blaming the political system for the manner in which they ignore the true value of this House. I have yet to meet a minister or a government that will proactively pursue an agenda of reform, of control of expenditure that is worthwhile and actually brings about resolution."

McGuinness claimed the Government is only focused on the wealthy and is ignoring vulnerable groups including the elderly and struggling families. He added: "No more bluff, no more spin, tell the truth."

McGuinness is not alone in feeling that way, but while there is no immediate prospect of a heave against Martin, the party is in desperate need of a win.

After almost 12 weeks in office, Fianna Fáil has endured the sort of battering normally meted out to the minor party in government rather than the largest.

Matters are not yet at a critical stage but they are not far off it if Fianna Fáil’s future is to be secured. Bottom line, things must change if the party is to succeed.

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