Micheál Martin will lead Fianna Fáil into the next election if he decides he wants to, according to the Minister for Public Expenditure.
Fianna Fáil’s poor showing in last week’s by-election has fanned unrest among some members of the party – with Sligo TD Marc MacSharry calling for Mr Martin to resign as leader “the sooner the better.”
The party’s candidate Deirdre Conroy picked up just 4.6% of the first preference vote on Thursday – Fianna Fáil’s worst-ever result in a by-election.
Meanwhile, Kildare TD James Lawless has said the end of Micheál Martin’s term as Taoiseach would be the natural time for him to step down as party leader.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath said the final decision will rest with Mr Martin.
“I believe that if he wants to be the leader going into the next election then he will be,” he said. “I think he is doing an excellent job; the man could not be giving it any more.
“I see up close every day the commitment he is giving to the role and the office of Taoiseach and I think he deserves the support of the parliamentary party and deserves the support of the general public.
“He is trying to lead the country through a global pandemic. I think he is doing a pretty good job.”
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He said the party should resolve the issue behind closed doors as far as possible.
“I don’t think the public are consumed about internal FF issues and I think we should deal with them privately,” he said. “Have open, honest, frank discussions – people can say what they want and if they have alternative views by all means put them on the table but there is a need for coherence as well and I think the public want to see parties focusing on the issues that really matter to them.”
He said Fianna Fáil endured a “difficult” by-election noting that “the result was clearly not one that would be acceptable to a party such as us.”
“We do need to examine the underlying reasons for that and we will do that but we will do it in a calm and considered way,” he said.
“So, what the Taoiseach has agreed to now is that there will be a special meeting at the beginning of September where all of these issues will be debated and members of the parliamentary party can speak freely and frankly and in a respectful way.
“That will happen I think in what is the correct forum and I look forward very much to that debate and participating in it.”
Summer Economic Statement
Minister McGrath was speaking after the publication of the Summer Economic Statement, which sets out a core package of nearly €5bn in spending for the October budget.
The minister said around €50bn will be spent on “housing, transport, climate action measures and other essential infrastructure” over the next five years, while the Government also focuses on unwinding COVID spending and reducing the budget deficit.
He admitted that Ireland’s national debt will balloon from around €200bn pre-pandemic to around €280bn by 2025.
“We believe in overall terms what we are setting out here is the right approach,” he said. “It is balanced, it will support economic recovery, it is prioritising investment in our economy and it does bring about sustainability of the public finance by focusing on the deficit reduction.”
He said there will be a €20bn deficit in the budget this year - €15bn of which is related to COVID spending.
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