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Éamon Ó Cuív for president? Even the Fianna Fáil party is split on that one

Éamon Ó Cuív has remained silent on whether he wants to be the next president.

IT’S OVER TWO weeks since Éamon Ó Cuív’s name was mentioned as a possible candidate for the presidential election.

Despite texts, phone calls and emails from the Irish media, Ó Cuív has remained silent, refusing to comment on the calls from some Fianna Fáil members for him to stand as the party candidate.

A letter calling for support for the veteran Fianna Fáiler to be the next president of Ireland was sent to councillors nationwide at the end of July.

The letter, sent by Galway Councillor Ollie Crowe, is being described in Fianna Fáil circles as a major challenge to party leader Micheál Martin’s authority.

However, perhaps pulling the strings in the background, the party leader has been quick to get his frontbench out to dismiss the story.

Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins has said he “doesn’t see it going anywhere”, while this week the party’s transport spokesperson Robert Troy said Fianna Fáil will not be changing its mind to allow him to stand for the election.

“If Éamon Ó Cuív decides to go down that route he will not be standing as a Fianna Fáil candidate because the party will not be standing a candidate,” Troy said this week.

Appetite in the party 

However, an unnamed Fianna Fáil source said there is a huge appetite within the party for Ó Cuív to run.

He is seen as someone who fits the same mould as Michael D Higgins, they said.

But the party line so far is it has backed Higgins and its sticking to its decision.

There are three differing views emerging from within the party in recent weeks.

There are the grassroot members, loyal to Ó Cuív, who like to think of the old stock of Fianna Fáil. They’re hardcore, traditional Fianna Fáilers. Some might say they have a nostalgic view of where their party fits into the world.

They feel their party is the one to lead and hate the fact it has found itself cornered, propping up Fine Gael, while remaining stagnant and treading water, waiting for their poll numbers to go up.

File Photo Eamon O Cuiv For President. End. Ó Cúiv standing on a wall during canvassing for an election campaign in Co Galway in 1992. Source: Eamonn Farrell

These are the members that think they should be using the presidential election to get their message out there.

“What do we even stand for,” one councillor told TheJournal.ie, adding: “We are supporting Fine Gael, we are not putting forward a presidential candidate and we’re facing into local elections. What am I meant to tell the people on the doorsteps?”

Ó Cuív is old guard, solid, traditional.

Damage to the party 

Then there is the second group – the younger Fianna Fáilers, who think that putting Ó Cuív forward for the presidential election would damage the party.

“We are trying to repair the party after the referendum result, in which 50% of our party backed the no vote. Putting a candidate like Eamon out to be the face of the party in the presidential election would send all the wrong signals about where we want the party to go,” said one Fianna Fáiler.

They added that the party is trying to attract more young people, and women, in particular. Having Ó Cuív out front and centre in the campaign would do nothing for their numbers. This at a time when there is constant speculation about when a snap election could occur.

There is also the third group – the group that is happy to back Higgins, keep the status quo and keep the ship sailing.

Councillors have said this group are the parliamentary party in Leinster House. Councillor Crowe, who wrote the original letter said, “Leinster House is a bit of a cocoon”, adding TDs are out of touch with the grassroots of the party.

While Troy said this week that “nobody is clambering over me for us to contest the position”, Crowe said after he sent the letter he immediately heard back from at least 40 councillors.

Out of touch?

Following the referendum result in May, it was clear Fianna Fáil, which has spent decades in power since the foundation of the State, had lost touch with the public mood.

However, Martin appeared to back the right horse and it did him no harm. Before, there was a lot of talk about “mutterings” in the party about his leadership, with some speculating that his dissenting view was working against him.

However, following the referendum result, it was clear his leadership could not be challenged, with his front and back benches having no choice but to join him in the battle to drag their party into the 21st century.

If Ó Cuív runs, he’ll be doing so as an independent. This would create another serious problem for Fianna Fáil. While paving a new, modern path for the party, can it really afford to look like it’s turning its back on Éamon De Valera’s grandson?

However, if the party concedes, and Martin rows back, he loses face, and put his leadership under question, again. For a party that wants to shed its old skin, while being modern and traditional at the same time, Ó Cuiv’s timing for a challenge is far from ideal.

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