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Thursday 8 December 2016

Andrew Lynch: 'Old boys' row serves to expose Michael Martin's lack of leadership

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin with Michael McGrath, the party’s finance spokesperson
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin with Michael McGrath, the party’s finance spokesperson

Micheal Martin must sometimes feel that he just can't win.

When the Fianna Fail leader adds ex-minister Sean Haughey to the general election ticket in Dublin Bay North he is accused of running an "old boys brigade".

When he tries to kick ex-minister Mary Hanafin off the local election ticket (in last year's Battle of Blackrock) he is accused of airbrushing the party's history.

The criticism does not stop there.

When ex-minister Conor Lenihan turns up as a potential runner in Roscommon, Martin is accused of not doing enough to find new talent. When former by-election candidate David McGuinness is replaced by medical student Jack Chambers in Dublin West, Martin is accused of being disloyal to old troopers and abandoning Fianna Fail's working-class roots.

In short, Micheal has become a punchbag for his own members as they face into a general election that will determine whether or not they have a future. Sadly, he has nobody to blame but himself.

After four-and-a-half years of his leadership, the Soldiers of Destiny still have no clear idea of who they are, what they stand for or where they are going - which is why their candidate-selection process is descending into a series of ugly personality clashes.

This week's Dublin Bay North row is the most embarrassing yet. At a tense convention in Clontarf Castle last June, local councillor Deirdre Heney defeated Sean Haughey by the wafer-thin margin of 75-73.

Now Fianna Fail headquarters has shown its contempt for democracy by imposing the late Taoiseach's son as a candidate anyway.

Speaking to the media yesterday, a deeply upset Heney let her leader have it with both barrels. She made the sensational claim that this decision was only taken because Martin and Haughey are personal friends.

Split

She also warned that with two names on the ballot paper, Fianna Fail might well split its vote and end up with no TD at all.

Although Heney is entitled to feel angry, she should remember that self-pity is not a good look. One texter to a radio station described her as sounding like a "whinging schoolgirl". It may be sexist and cruel, but it could still be echoed by plenty of voters.

Even so, Heney's basic argument is correct. Dublin Bay North is the city's 'group of death', with six sitting TDs and several other big names competing for just five Dail places.

Nobody in their right mind thinks that Fianna Fail can win two seats here, so the only valid reason to run two candidates would be based on geography. Since Heney and Haughey are both based in Clontarf, this excuse just does not hold water.

Instead, Martin may have played straight into the hands of a dangerous opponent.

Senator Averil Power quit Fianna Fail shortly after last May's same-sex marriage referendum, complaining that the party was full of conservative dinosaurs who would not lift a finger to help her.

Sean Haughey, incidentally, admits that he did not canvass for a marriage equality and has refused to say how he voted at the ballot box.

Now Power is set to be an independent candidate in Dublin Bay North - and an internal Fianna Fail battle can do nothing but help her chances.

Why has Martin landed himself in yet another constituency mess? The answer is that he keeps sending mixed signals about what kind of candidates he actually wants.

He constantly talks about the need to freshen up Fianna Fail's still-toxic image, but his election line-up is starting to resemble the cast from a political Night of the Living Dead.

Martin leads a Dail team that has been derided as "male, stale and beyond the Pale". Dublin women such as Deirdre Heney should be a godsend, but instead he is apparently doing his best to undermine her.

How can Martin aspire to govern the country as Taoiseach when he runs his own party in such a chaotic fashion?

Averil Power has called Micheal Martin "a leader without any followers". In fact, Micheal still has a few - his problem is that they are completely clueless about where he wants to take them.

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