Micheál Martin will be sleeping with one eye open as contenders for the party leadership circle having left him take the hit for an unspectacular election showing, writes Political Correspondent Shaun Connolly
MAYBE it was just a coincidence, but the hotel chosen for Fianna Fáil’s “think-in” was most apt as it boasts an on-site counsellor to help people who are not coping very well with things.
“Anxious? Stressed out? Panic attacks?” screams the headline from leaflets dotted across the premises, “then overcome fears, worries, and manage stress better,” the flyer goes on to helpfully suggest as it urges people in need to head for therapy in the business centre.
It is not known if any of the assembled TDs and senators availed of the in-house services, but then Fianna Fáil’s panic attacks have subsided since they finally managed to win a byelection this year after six straight defeats, and while still anxious about the party’s stuttering performance in the late teens of opinion polls, FF-ers seem to have been calmed by a resigned acceptance they will not do much better than nudge the 20% mark on election day in a crowded field.
Fianna Fáil TDs Michael McGrath and Brendan Smith enjoy a cuppa during the party’s parliamentary party think-in at the Marine Hotel in Dublin yesterday
But politics being the art of saying the unbelievable in public and hoping to get away with it, Micheál Martin insists he is the only alternative taoiseach, which is strange as he has also ruled out coalition with Fine Gael or Sinn Féin – so just 59 net seat gains next time out and Micheál has it in the bag.
And who knows? If an ungrateful nation is prepared to admit it was wrong in turfing FF out of office for merely surrendering economic sovereignty to foreigners in 2010, perhaps, they will even have the odd woman TD after the election, as the party, despite its double-talk on marriage equality, remains defiantly same-sex in Dáil terms.
Mr Martin’s problem with women was once again to the fore as the hotel overlooking Dublin Bay is slap-bang in the constituency of Aevril Power who exploded out of Fianna Fáil like a Catherine-wheel of anger when she quit the party over what she dubbed its boys club atmosphere and backward-looking beliefs.
Ms Power also branded Mr Martin a “coward” for good measure, but at least he was not hiding behind any women as he opened the gathering as the only women in sight seemed to be the women journalists asking about his women problem.
Mr Martin said he had done his best but the voters had seen fit not to elect any FF women last time out – ah yes, that’s a good idea – blame the voters, Micheál.
But as Fianna Fáil is the only major party to have failed to get the required 30% of female Dáil candidates in place yet, perhaps the problem is not all the fault of the electorate?
Timmy Dooley TD, Michael McGrath TD, Senator Darragh O’Brien and Willie O’Dea TD
At least the rumblings of a heave against Mr Martin have gone away, though this is mainly because the contenders believe it is better for them to let him take the hit for an unspectacular election performance in the coming months, and then challenge for the top job.
Mr Martin has put in some strong Dáil performances on the whistleblower scandal, the “retirement” of the last garda commissioner, and the Irish Water fiasco, these have failed to outweigh the image of a drifting leadership presiding over a policy vacuum for most of the past four-and-a-half years.
And while FF tends to do better at the ballot box than the opinion poll, and did manage to top the local elections last year, some TDs feel the party continues to lack thrust and relevance.
Five years since his predecessor Brian Cowen’s infamous “think-in” RTÉ interview in which Simon Coveney accused the then-toaiseach of sounding “halfway between drunk and hungover”, Mr Martin has held the party together but made zero progress in the polls. So you could say he has left FF halfway between sunk and made over.
The hotel counsellor also promises to help people sleep better, but Mr Martin will be sleeping with one eye open after the election as the would-be challengers begin to circle.
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