Fianna Fail TD Jim O’Callaghan has cast doubt on Micheal Martin’s leadership following the party’s disastrous result in the Dublin Bay South by-election.
Asked if the Taoiseach should lead Fianna Fail into the next election, were it to go ahead as planned in 2025, Mr O’Callaghan replied: “We’ll have to think about that.”
Mr O’Callaghan, a TD for Dublin Bay South and director of elections for the party candidate Councillor Deirdre Conroy, was speaking after early tallies put her at just 5% of the vote.
“Any leader who indicates a date of departure unnecessarily weakens himself.
“I fully understand why the Taoiseach says he’s going to lead Fianna Fail into the next general election,” Mr O’Callaghan said.
Asked if he was concerned for his own seat at the next general election, he replied: “Certainly if the result is similar to this, there will be more than faint alarm bells and I would have thought there will be alarm bells ringing in the heads of most Fianna Fail TDs in Dublin.”
He added: “Although this has been extremely disappointing and beyond what we thought was going to happen, there has been an awareness in Fianna Fail since the last election that the party has been declining nationally and in Dublin in the polls.”
Mr O’Callaghan said he would accept his share of responsibility for the result, but added: “I’m not exclusively responsible for Fianna Fail’s decline in the vote from 14% to 5%.”
He added: “It’s not a good result and I’m not trying to suggest it is. It’s a very disappointing result for Fianna Fail.
“All of us in the Fianna Fail, in the parliamentary party have to reflect on it, and try to assess why it is that our vote has declined so much in Dublin.”
Ms Conroy said she was not shocked by the result, but was disappointed, having been elected on the first count at the local elections in 2019.
She said: “I got elected in 2019 for the work that I do for the constituency of Dublin Bay South for the first time as a councillor in the area.
“So it is obviously quite strange that the same votes I got then are very similar to the ones I got now. I can’t explain why people are voting like that.
“Everybody we met really supported me, so there really isn’t an explanation.
“I can’t say I’m shocked, because it was a replacement for a Fine Gael TD who left and of course Ivana is very popular as a Senator.”
She said it “remains to be seen” if she will run again.
Mr O’Callaghan said he did not have all the answers as to why the party performed so poorly, but called on Fianna Fail to take a more “radical approach” to housing, the issue which dominated the contest.
I regret, I don't think Fianna Fail understand the scale of the problem yet. We have to.Jim O'Callaghan
He said: “I would say to people Fianna Fail have only been in power for one year.
“In that time we brought in the Affordable Housing Act, we brought in the statutory basis for the Land Development Agency, we brought in the shared equity scheme.
“But unless the public see Fianna Fail in Government having made progress on the housing issue, by the time the next general election comes we will be facing similar results as this.
“We need to make ourselves more relevant. We need to become more relevant in the political hemisphere and we need to ensure that Fianna Fail policies on housing succeed.”
“The reason why Sinn Fein have done well on the topic of housing is not because people believe they have the solutions. It’s because people believe they understand the scale of the problem,” he added.
“I regret I don’t think Fianna Fail understand the scale of the problem yet. We have to.”
Mr O’Callaghan said he had spoken to the Taoiseach, who was “concerned and disappointed” by the result.
He said that Fianna Fail votes had ended up going to Labour Senator and poll-topper Ivana Bacik.
He said: “This by-election took on a momentum of itself and became a two-horse race between Ivana Bacik and James Geoghegan.
“I’ve no doubt that a lot of support left Fianna Fail to go to Ivana Bacik.
“The public do not see how we are relevant in this election. They didn’t see the relevance of us in this election.”
But he denied the result was a blow to his own leadership ambitions.
He said: “This by-election is not abut me. When I was out canvassing nobody mentioned to me that they were voting for Deirdre or not voting Deirdre because of me.”
Mr Martin rejected suggestions that his leadership is under threat.
Speaking in Cork following his second vaccination, Mr Martin said: “It seems that Ivana has done very well indeed.
“Governments rarely win in by-elections. They are not markers in terms of what happens at the next general elections.
“This constituency is not our strongest constituency, it never has been.
“The Government is now going to focus at the issues at hand, dealing with Covid and making sure we can facilitate the recovery of our economy and jobs and prioritising housing and healthcare.
“We are busy getting substantial work through the Dail.”