Micheál Martin said Fianna Fáil faces a challenge in reaching the gender quota for candidates in the Dáil elections, which will rise to 40 per cent in 2023.
Currently, the gender quota is set at 30 per cent of candidates to be women.
Fianna Fáil is among a number of political parties that will come under pressure to meet the target, or risk losing out on funding if they fail to do so.
Mr Martin was speaking as the second day of Fianna Fáil’s think-in, taking place in Co Cavan, gets under way.
A report into the party’s electoral fortunes in recent years recommended that the party needs to re-establish a distinct identity.
Mr Martin said the party has to have a “real hard think” about the party’s position on social issues.
“We have reached our targets in terms of number of women candidates in the last election but we have a challenge there, because next time it will be 40 per cent of all candidates will have to be women,” Mr Martin told RTÉ Radio One.
“There is a challenge there, and that’s something that the party collectively has to engage with and likewise on social issues, the party has to have a real hard think about that in terms of how we position ourselves into the future, in terms of where younger people feel about many issues.”
The report found that the identity crisis stems from its confidence and supply agreement in the last government.
Mr Martin defended the decision, citing Brexit as one of the main issues to continue propping up the former government.
“We went into confidence and supply, subsequently Brexit happened and what we did was in the best interests of the country,” Mr Martin added.
“Yeah, I take some blame if people are saying ‘you’re putting the country first and party second’ and that was a theme yesterday that we have to watch the party, I accept that.
“There is an obligation on me as leader of the party to make sure that the party is robust and resilient into the future.” But equally, I do, given my experience in politics, have to put major significant issues … as Brexit was at the time.”
— Fianna Fáil (@fiannafailparty) September 9, 2021
“I’m very focused on growing Fianna Fáil, that’s what I’ve been doing.
“We took a setback in the 2020 general election, we made very good progress in the local election.
“I’m not obsessed about any political party. I’ve engaged with Sinn Féin for many years, in respect to various portfolios.
“I want to get the facts right about why we were in a position where we had to go to confidence and supply. The options in terms of the formation of government were quite challenging then.
“The issue in terms of the identity of the party, and we do have to look at that, and I’m going to set up a commission on the aims and objectives of the party.”
The party think-in continues with a series of discussions on housing, Brexit and Covid-19.
A long closed-door meeting of the parliamentary party ended on Thursday night at 11.30pm.
During that meeting, some of Mr Martin’s internal opponents and rivals spoke up to criticise the party’s recent record – including former minister Barry Cowen and senior TD Jim O’Callaghan.
Sligo TD Marc MacSharry also spoke at the meeting to criticise Mr Martin’s leadership.
Parliamentarians appeared in largely good spirits as they left the meeting on Thursday night.
Leaving the meeting, one senior Fianna Fáil figure said that there had been some “passionate” speeches, but described the meeting as largely positive.
One Fianna Fáil TD indicated that some of the discussions would continue on Friday morning.