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By-election defeat: Fianna Fáil members call for party leadership change

DUBLIN: Dispute within Fianna Fáil over leadership following defeat in the Dublin Bay South by-election. Jim O’Callaghan has spoken out against Taoiseach Micheál Martin, calling for a change in party leadership. At the same time, splits within the party became obvious as Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and Education Minister Norma Foley came out in favor of the Taoiseach.

The by-election was won by Ivana Bacik of the Labour Party. Fine Gael received 26% of the vote and Sinn Féin 15%. Fianna Fáil’s performance was the most pathetic, with their candidate receiving only 5% of first preference votes. Opponents point out that this has embarrassed the party.

The opposition within the party strongly objected after Martin expressed his desire to lead Fianna Fáil in the next general election as well. The revolt has gained strength as a result of the subsequent election loss. Meanwhile, there are indications that a faction is planning to bring a no-confidence motion against Martin. Attempts are being made within the party to gather the signatures of ten TDs for the motion.

Jim O’Callaghan is ready to be the next leader

Jim O’Callaghan said that Fianna Fáil’s leadership needs to change and that he wants to be the next leader. “I believe it’s an honour and a privilege (to lead the party), but I’m not going to do anything just to undermine the leader or give the media an impression that there’s something going on when I don’t think there is.”

He also suggested that the party should hold a special meeting to discuss the aftermath of the disastrous by-election defeat. “We need to have a meeting to address the results of the by-election and the general election in 2020, we’ve had a review into that, that hasn’t been published yet,” he said.

Mr. O’Callaghan said he would not sign a motion of no confidence over the party leader. “The question we need to ask is ‘why are we not connecting with the electorate?’” he said.

Health Minister and Education Minister backs Martin

Minister for Education Norma Foley believes Mr Martin can lead Fianna Fáil into the next general election. But she stressed that there is not enough support within the party for the leadership.

However, Ms. Foley said that there is “work to be done” after the party’s candidate, councillor Deirdre Conroy, received only 5% of first preference votes in the by-election.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he had “full confidence” in Mr. Martin. He said that “internal bickering” does not benefit the party.

“I have full confidence in Micheál Martin and I think he’s doing a really good job in what is an incredibly difficult period for the country. The vaccination programme, I think it’s accepted, is probably one of the best in the world, we’ve got one of the lowest fatality rates in Europe from COVID,” he said.

“There’s a lot of other things going on in healthcare, there’s a lot of progression in the area of housing, in the area of education and in other areas as well,” the Minister added.

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