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Sam Boal

All eyes will be on what ministry Micheál Martin opts for in December

A number of TDs and senators said the Fianna Fáil party think-in would be Micheál Martin’s last as party leader.

ALL EYES WILL be on what portfolio Micheál Martin will opt for when he takes over as Tánaiste in December.

Many Fianna Fáilers at the party think-in this week believe if Martin opts for foreign affairs, it will be an indication that he plans to vacate the position as party leader sooner rather than later. 

Given the inflation crisis and the focus on the impending budget, there was no talk of leadership challenges over the two days in Westmeath but it is expected at some point before December. By then, some members will be asking, quite forcefully, what Martin’s intentions are as leader. 

A number of TDs and senators, some loyal cheerleaders and some not in the Martin camp, were certain that the Mullingar think-in would be his last as party leader.

Despite Martin stating that he plans to stay on as leader of Fianna Fáil and lead the party into the next election, some TDs and senators have said that it can’t be allowed to happen “for the party’s sake”. 

As part of the government formation plans, when he rotates out of the position of Taoiseach and into the role of Tánaiste, he will also receive a ministry.

While some wish for him to just take Leo Varadkar’s post as Minister for Enterprise and Trade – allowing for a seamless switch – others have said he might choose to take on Education or Higher Education, given his strong interest in both portfolios. 

Some speculated that the call of the Department of Foreign Affairs – one he served in before and speaks very fondly of – will be too tempting for him to turn down. 

“If he chooses foreign affairs, that will be a clear indication that he plans to head off as party leader and perhaps take up a job in Europe,” surmised one TD this week. 

Another said he might have “no choice” but to take on the ministry after Simon Coveney, stating that it would mean Fianna Fáil would have input into matters in Northern Ireland, along with the Department of An Taoiseach.

The job would require him to be out of the country a lot, which would give backbenchers ample opportunity to formulate a heave against the leader and get a successor primed and ready. 

The break away Fianna Fáilers, some who have already spoken out publicly about their concerns and who held a private meeting away from ministers and the party leader in July are understood to “keeping the head down” until after the budget. 

It is likely another meeting could take place in October, after the party’s Ard Fheis which is taking place in the RDS the weekend after the budget.

It is believed that some were unhappy with the structured nature of the party think-in, instead wanting more time to discuss the direction of the party. 

The Taoiseach rejected internal party criticism over his failure to facilitate the backbench meeting.

Speaking to reporters, Martin said the public is not interested in “excessive navel-gazing” by political parties, saying that the people want the Government to get on with sorting out the country.

Hurling legend Brian Cody was a guest speaker at the party think-in this week.

It’s understood that he told politicians they should free themselves of egos, something the Taoiseach was keen to mention in passing. Others were equally keen to mention that Cody managed the Kilkenny county team between 1998 and 2022, retiring only this year.

Perhaps Martin wanted advice on how to stay on in a job for so long, joked some party members. 

But Martin rejected any assertions there was a Fianna Fáil identity problem that needed to be discussed.  

“I don’t accept that. I don’t accept it as an identity issue, I think there’s an over fixation by certain people on that,” he said. 

Some Fianna Fáiler’s scoffed at the remark, stating that the “head-in-the-sand” attitude is going to run the party into the ground unless something changes soon.

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