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Lumalagong hindi pagkakasundo sa pamumuno ni Micheál Martin

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An abysmal performance by the Fianna Fáil Party in a Dublin by-election last week has seen Micheál Martin’s (Nakalarawan) position as Taoiseach or prime minister in the Irish government come under increasing threat. As Ken Murray reports, sharks are circling within his Party as a growing number of disgruntled back-benchers want a new face to win back lost support.

There’s an old saying that goes: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer still."

That’s a phrase that Irish Prime Minister or Taoiseach Micheál Martin may have to keep in mind over the coming months as he comes under increasing pressure from within his own ranks if he wants to continue leading his party and government.

According to the favourite to be next party leader Jim O’Callaghan TD, “I would have thought that it’s unlikely that in 2025 Micheál Martin would be leading Fianna Fáil into an election, that’s just my own view,” he said over the weekend as the current coalition government continues its battle to get the economy back on the road after the ravages of Covid 19.

The Party’s support is down and a combination of Covid fatigue, issues over housing and a closed economy, failure to get its message out or the fact that it entered in to an unthinkable three-way coalition are being cited as some of the reasons for the drop in support.

The current Irish Government whose time in office has been dominated by tackling the spread of the Covid 19 virus, is currently comprised of a unique coalition arrangement following the general election in February 2020.

The election to the 160-seat Dáil or parliament saw Micheál Martin’s Fianna Fáil win 38 seats or 22.2% of the national vote, Sinn Féin 37, Fine Gael 35, the Greens 12 with an array of left-wing and independents taking the remainder.

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After much exploration on the acceptable options to form a new government, Fianna Fáil, led by Micheál Martin, which describes itself as a centre-left republican party, eventually entered office in June 2020 with the centre-right Fine Gael Party led by former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

As part of the coalition deal, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are operating a rotating Taoiseach arrangement. Martin is in the top job until December 2022 when Leo Varadkar will then succeed him for the run-in to the next election.

Such a coalition would have been unthinkable up to recently as both opposing parties were founded almost 100 years ago following a bitter hostile split from the old Sinn Féin over the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 which saw the British divide Ireland and the ongoing turmoil that followed.

The Green Party is also part of the new coalition but is only ‘inside the tent’, so to speak, to keep the modern-day Sinn Féin out!

To say Micheál Martin’s time as Taoiseach has been tough would be under-stating it.

For all Leaders across the World, Covid-19 and the subsequent lock-down measures have been politically unpopular. In Ireland, the ruling Fianna Fáil has taken something of a hammering from Covid measures in successive opinion polls due to delays in re-opening the economy.

A Red C survey for Ang Post ng Negosyo newspaper last month saw Fianna Fáil at 13 per cent, a drop of almost half on its general election performance of 2020 while opponents Fine Gael were up to 30%.

With increased rumblings amongst FF party back-benchers over its performance in government, the recent by-election in the mainly affluent Dublin Bay South constituency was seen by many as a test of the Party and Micheál Martin’s popularity with a worn-down electorate that has been somewhat house-bound since March of last year due to Covid restrictions!

When the votes were counted on Friday last in the by-election, both Fine Gael, which originally held but vacated the seat and Fianna Fáil, got something of a kicking from the local electorate with the seat surprisingly going to Ivana Bacik of the Labour Party which only picked up 4.4% of the national vote last year!

The Fianna Fáil candidate, Deirdre Conroy, received 4.6% of the vote, the worst in the history of the Party! The FF fall in support was 9.2%!

Not surprisingly, a number of Micheál Martin’s disgruntled back-benchers who were overlooked for Cabinet positions last year, have been, metaphorically speaking, sharpening their knives!

Jim O’Callaghan TD who was director of Deirdre Conroy’s ill-fated election campaign pointed the blame for the performance in Micheál Martin’s direction.

Asked if the Taoiseach should lead Fianna Fáil into the next election, were it to go ahead as planned in 2025, Mr O’Callaghan replied in subtle voice, “We’ll have to think about that.”

Barry Cowen TD, who was sacked by Micheál Martin as Agriculture Minister last year after it emerged he wasn’t fully forthcoming over a drink-driving offence, also made it clear that the time has come for his boss to go.

In a statement to fellow TDs or MPs, senators and MEPs, he said that Fianna Fáil’s dismal share of the vote was ‘alarming but strangely, not surprising.”

He went on to call for a special meeting of the parliamentary party during the Summer so that members could discuss in person “the latest bad results and last year’s dismal general election.”

Another party rebel TD calling for a change at the top is Marc McSharry, whose father Ray was EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development between 1989 and 1993.

Questioned on Newstalk Radio in Dublin as to whether Micheál Martin should step down, Marc McSharry said, “the sooner the better. It’s not my preference he would lead us in to the next general election.”

Matters haven’t been helped in recent months for Micheál Martin with the news that large numbers of young people are being denied the opportunity to purchase houses due to a sweet-heart tax deal done by the Government with cash-rich foreign vulture funds who’ve ‘invaded’ the Irish market and bought up new housing estates which they in turn rent out at inflated rates to married couples desperate to own a home of their own!

The PR fall-out from this has been disastrous for the Government but moreso for Martin as he is the one in the Taoiseach’s office.

The revelation has caused much anger with younger first and second-time voters who feel the Government has abandoned them, a development that has contributed to a drift in FF support.

Speaking in the aftermath of the Dublin Bay South by-election, a defiant Micheál Martin told reporters that he would lead his Fianna Fáil Party in to the next General Election which is scheduled for 2025.

"My focus is on the government and the people of Ireland, getting through Covid-19, is extremely important. And it is my intention then, [after] the first half of government [when] we do the transition and I'll become Tánaiste [deputy Leader] and it's my intention to lead the party into the next election," he said.

If Fianna Fáil don’t see an improvement in opinion polls over the coming months, his Party may decide it’s time for change at the top.

In the meantime, the political sniping from disgruntled back-benchers in the Party looks set to continue.

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