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Trouble in the ranks: 'We've a health and housing crisis and our solution is to keep Fine Gael running the show'

Micheál Martin announced this week that he would extend the confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael.

1619 Micheal Martin_90560468 Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

We have a health crisis, a housing crisis and our solution is to keep Fine Gael running the show. 

THOSE ARE THE words of one Fianna Fáiler after Wednesday’s news the party is giving the green light to Fine Gael for another year.

What have Fianna Fáil got in return for allowing Fine Gael continue in government until 2020? That was the big question. The answer? Nothing, apparently. 

The fallout from the announcement by Micheál Martin that he would extend the confidence and supply arrangement between the two parties has sunk in, particularly the aspect that Fianna Fáil secured no big wins for renewing the deal. In fact, they didn’t appear to ask for any. 

The mood within the party? Not good. 

In the height of the Brexit confusion on Wednesday, Martin told reporters that for the good of the country and in light of Brexit, he really had no choice but to give Fine Gael a free pass for another year. 

He said if it weren’t for Brexit, there would be no way he would allow the deal to continue, but Brexit had forced his hand. 

Fianna Fáilers not happy 

When asked by how he was going to sell the renewal to Fianna Fáil grassroots, as well as those in the parliamentary party, Martin admitted that some within the party will be unhappy with his decision. 

Meetings with those opposers have been held over the last couple of weeks, he said, but ultimately, it was a difficult decision he had to take, he explained. 

He added that he believed the public would support his decision and understand it is the right thing to do. 

When pressed about what sweeteners Fianna Fáil demanded in return for not pulling the plug, Martin was sketchy on the detail.

He faced repeated questions about specifics. He threw out a few nuggets, like affordable housing. Yes, they definitely want that to be sorted out.

Anything else? Perhaps the national broadband contract? 

On this, Martin said he had “deep concerns” about whether the remaining bidder could deliver what is needed, but added that whole issue is “outside” the confidence and supply deal. 

While Martin could not pinpoint one major win for his party for giving Fine Gael the green light to continue with business as usual, he did state that there has been a huge underdelivery on housing and health. 

Stunned was how one Fine Gaeler said he felt about the lack of demands put down by Fianna Fáil, but added that Martin wants to be seen to do the “admirable” thing for the country. 

Fianna Fáil Christmas party 

The Fianna Fáil Christmas party for members was on Wednesday evening and no doubt news of the extension of the deal was the cause for some tension. 

Some were so peeved they said they would not bother turning up. Perhaps for fear about what they might say to their leader over a few Christmas tipples. 

One of Martin’s most vocal critics, Eamon O’Cúiv (who was recently demoted by Martin over a rogue move to launch a Fianna Fáil candidate in the North) was said to be astonished at Martin’s unilateral decision to support Fine Gael in government, however, others in the party believe the national interest has to be the overriding concern. 

One Fianna Fáiler said ”it’s the best result for stability at this point in time with so much uncertainty in the UK”.

“Overall people realise this is a time of major transition all across Europe so the country comes first,” they said. 

Another said the decision won’t be popular but people see why it has to be done, especially when they see what is happening in the UK. 

However, others said there are some mixed views within the party as people feel that Fianna Fáil is not having the opportunity to communicate its message as a normal opposition party would, “which is frustrating,” they added.

“People will feel abandoned by the party. We won’t get the opportunity to raise issues of concern,” said backbench Fianna Fáiler, John McGuinness.

“This could have been done differently,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

A number of TDs and senators told that people within the party were very “unhappy” with Martin’s decision.

One pointed out that grassroots members, particularly councillors, are reporting back from their constituencies that they are getting it in the neck for not holding the government to account over housing and health issues. 

“We have a health crisis, a housing crisis and our solution is to keep Fine Gael running the show,” said one politician. 

This is not the only issue that has sparked a mood of discontent within the party.

Pressure mounting on Micheál Martin

Just a few short weeks ago, the Fianna Fáil leader demoted Senator Mark Daly as well as O’Cúiv for what has been described as an attempt to force Martin’s hand to launch party candidates in Northern Ireland. 

However, the party has been in talks with the SDLP about a possible merger for some time now. Some members within the party were happy to state that while it is a leader’s prerogative to lead, it is not their prerogative to “drag” the party down a road of merging with another party.

One member was highly critical of Martin pressing ahead with a deal with the SDLP, stating that the party leader is overstepping his role as leader “by a mile” by acting unilaterally with no party consultation. 

The announcement that the party let Fine Gael off the hook, with no additions to the confidence and supply document and no “easy wins” for the party, is likely to be difficult for Fianna Fáilers to take. 

Fianna Fáil signing up for another 12 months of no thanks from their voters is surely going to add to the mounting pressure being placed on Martin. 

While Fianna Fáil continue to state that their “fingerprints” are all over the last few budgets, and attempt to claim some of the government announcements as their own, it never looks good for any opposition party to be praised by the main party in government, which is exactly what happened yesterday in Leaders’ Questions. 

Coming to the defence of Fianna Fáil, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said Martin had done the right thing. 

He was defending Fianna Fáil from the attacks of Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, who said Martin and his party are in cahoots with the government. He told the Dáil that the real opposition party is Sinn Fein.

Coveney jumped to Fianna Fáil’s defence, stating that the party and its leader deserved “credit” for signing up to another year. 

He told the Dáil that Fianna Fáil would continue to hold the government to account on issues such as housing, and scrutinise government policy. There were giggles from the benches. 

One thing is for sure, when the Tánaiste is defending Fianna Fáil from Sinn Féin, you know the ‘soldiers of destiny’ are having a bad week of it. 

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