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'We all have to get up on the 26th and live together again': On the trail with the 'Yes' and 'No' TDs of Fianna Fáil

More than half of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party are backing a No vote next week.

EARLIER THIS MONTH, 31 Fianna Fáil parliamentary party members gathered in Dublin’s Merrion Square holding ‘Vote No’ posters.

That’s more than half of the party, but Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin maintains that while there are different opinions among members, it poses no challenge to future cohesion within the party. 

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, Martin said that unlike some parties, he has given his deputies the choice to vote with their conscience, and has respected everyone’s views.

In Fine Gael (whose deputies have also been given a free vote on the upcoming legislation) those that are against repealing the Eighth Amendment “are keeping quieter”, said Martin. That is not the case in his party.

Martin said Fianna Fáil are “together” and batted aside any suggestion that the issue has caused a divide in the ranks.

He acknowledged there are “differing perspectives on this issue” but said the party is “getting on fine”.

“I see this as a maturing of Irish democracy,” said Martin, adding that he knows his own deputies have struggled on the issue, as he has.

“In an issue likes this, you can’t be absolutist. There is a lot more grey than black and white in life and I have learned that.

“Even people who vote No in the party, TDs voting No in the party… people are voting No with reservations, it is not as if they don’t see the other side or the Yes side, they do, it’s not like they don’t understand the complexities. They do. And they know how difficult this is for everybody,” he said.

Martin’s own county has an interesting mix of politicians from both the No and Yes side, with some Cork TDs from his own party having differing viewpoints.

While Martin will be voting Yes in the upcoming referendum, his constituency colleague and party finance spokesperson Michael McGrath is a No voter.

Cork Fianna Fáil TDs

The day TheJournal.ie pays a visit to Cork City, it’s buzzing. Ed Sheeran is due to play and the city is awash with youngsters excited to see their idol play Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Referendum posters are dotted along the River Lee, and with the referendum just a short time away, campaigners are out and about.

One of the leading ‘Yes men’ in the Fianna Fáil party is Cork North–Central’s Billy Kelleher. As the former health spokesperson for the party for close on seven years, he also sat on the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment.

When we caught up with him, he was attending the launch of a pop-up Yes campaign shop close to UCC. It sells merchandise for the Yes-side such as badges, t-shirts and hoodies.

IMG_1223 Fianna Fáil's Billy Kelleher with Yes campaign activists at the launch of a pop-up shop in Cork. Source: TheJournal.ie

“There is huge volunteerism, and a huge cohort of young people,” added Kelleher, who said it is the younger generation who want the issue dealt with.

The numbers out campaigning for Yes have been increasing week on week, said Kelleher, who believes people are realising “the more people who actively campaign, the better a chance of a change”.

Throughout the last few months, Kelleher said as health spokesperson for the party he tried to “de-politicise” the issue.

He said Fianna Fáil has a free vote and Fine Gael has a free vote which is important as it prevents parties from being at loggerheads on the issue and takes it out of the “partisan party political system”.

I think it has allowed space for those on either side to have their view heard, respectfully, but at the same time as you get nearer people are going to get more intense with their discussions. As long as they can keep to a certain decorum, respectfulness, it is personal issue for many people. People don’t want to see distasteful language, intimidatory tactics, on either side, and they just want to be informed and be allowed the space to make their decision.

Kelleher acknowledged it is a “divisive issue” and there are strong feelings among people, even within his own party.

He said he is glad it is nearing the end with polling day, stating that the longer it goes on “the more entrenched people become”.

“We all have to get up on the 26th and live together again. I hope and plead we get a Yes vote. If it doesn’t happen, I have to respect the choice of the electorate just like everyone else does,” said Kelleher.

Another Cork Fianna Fáil TD, Margaret Murphy O’Mahony is on the opposite side of the fence. She is actively canvassing for a No vote in her Cork South-West constituency next week.

As it gets closer to polling day, people are trying to make up their mind and while she said confusion is the wrong word to use, she believes members of the public she has encountered appear to be “torn emotionally”.

She thinks this might affect the turn out next Friday.

“Both sides have put forward plausible arguments,” she said, commending the No activists who have come out and stayed out throughout the campaign.

I think it will be very close – it is all to play for.

On the issue of the Fianna Fáil party, she believes it will continue to remain united after the referendum.

“We’ll stay that way. We are all very close and are personal friends. We may differ on it, but that’s not an issue.”

“There is no question about the leadership,” she said, adding that there is no “hassle” within the party over Martin’s view, despite reports.

“Some people have different views to the leader – but it has definitely presented no hassle with anyone,” she added.

An interview with Fianna Fáil party leader Micheál Martin will be published at midnight on tonight.  

 

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