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Criticism levelled at Taoiseach at party meeting, discussion described as 'honest and tense'

The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party has been having a marathon meeting in Co Cavan.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Sep 2021

CRITICISM HAS BEEN levelled at Taoiseach Micheál Martin at his parliamentary party this evening, with the discussion described as “honest and tense” at times.

The two-day party think-in got underway this afternoon at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Cavan today.  

A long night of discussion took place – but there were no major fireworks and one politician who spoke to The Journal late into the evening went as far as to describe it as ‘cathartic’.

Charlie McConalogue, Barry Cowen, Marc MacSharry and Jim O’Callaghan were all among the early speakers. 

One source said criticism was targeted at the Taoiseach, but he had “taken it well”.

“Mixed views” had been expressed, said one minister, who said it was only right that there be a healthy amount of tension at such meetings.

Leaking from regular party meetings is giving a distorted view of the party, one TD said  this afternoon. They also welcomed that TDs and senators were told to leave their phones at the top of the room at the beginning of the meeting. 

This politician said it was a good idea, adding that such leaks were giving “loser vibes” from the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings. 

Questions over Martin’s ongoing leadership of the party were raised after the party’s poor Dublin Bay South by-election result in which Fianna Fáil secured just 4.6% of the vote. 

There has also been a focus on whether he will take on the role as Tánaiste when the office of Taoiseach switches to Fine Gael under the coalition deal and whether he will lead his party into the next general election. 

Earlier today, the Taoiseach told reporters that he will lead Fianna Fáil into the next election.

He said he will take up the role as Tánaiste in December 2022 under the Taoiseach rotation agreement in the programme for government.

Speaking this evening Martin defended his position and praised the work of his Government. 

“Delighted to be here at this wonderful location. Fianna Fáil is doing well in government. Our focus is on the substance and delivery.

“We have managed COVID successfully protecting the vulnerable and rolling out one of the worlds best vaccination programmes.

“We have carefully managed the economy and protected employment during this time with Minister McGrath focusing now on economic recovery.

“With housing for all Fianna Fáil in government has transformed the states approach to housing. It has the Fianna Fáil imprint and we need to go and deliver on it.We will act on the recommendations and the election review,” he said. 

The Taoiseach said that his party would succeed only through a sense of unity. 

“We must attract more young people by emphasising how we want to make changes so that Ireland is more progressive. We will adopt a new living manifesto to be updated regularly.

“Our future is only secure as a party if we act with unity of purpose. If we are divided we will never succeed. We have an opportunity to grow if we work better as a collective,” he added.

A report – though over a year old – was also discussed by members today, in what some described as “long-winded contributions”.

Fianna Fáil had expected to make gains at the 2020 general election – and did manage to return more TDs than either Sinn Féin or Fine Gael – but ended up losing seven seats, dropping from 45 before the election to 38. 

The report, 44 pages long, cites the lack of strategic oversight, and responding too slow to issues during the election as some of he key problems.

TD Cathal Crowe told The Journal earlier this evening that so far it had been a “very supportive meeting”. He said he wants work to be done on what the party stands for.

He agreed that those on the fringes who are critical of the Taoiseach are getting attention, but he said the majority of the middle ground in the party believe now is no time for a leadership change. 

“I think for us to have internal splits about who should be leading ourselves, it smacks of tribalism. It’s rather self serving for the party. The reality is that the Taoiseach is doing a relatively good job, a pretty good job,” he said.

“I support them, I want them to continue on and there will be time down the road for it [a conversation around the leadership] could be next year, whenever that will happen, when we talk about what happens beyond the Taoiseach’s term at the helm of government and what happens and there is space for that kind of chat, but not now,” he said.

It is understood that common themes emerged in the meeting including criticisms of the disconnect between the parliamentary party and party HQ. 

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