Micheál Martin has made clear he has no plans to retire after his stint as Taoiseach and has vowed to lead Fianna Fáil into the next election.
However, backbench TD Barry Cowen, who was sacked by Mr Martin during the summer after a controversy over a four-year-old drink-driving ban, has said that he and many of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party do not share this view.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Cowen said: “Nobody has a free pass. I personally – and I think a lot of the PP are of the same mind – I don’t think he’ll lead Fianna Fáil into the next election.”
Mr Cowen did not stipulate when he believes Mr Martin should step down, but indicates it could be “sometime after” the change in the Taoiseach’s office in a little under two years’ time.
However, Mr Martin said he was “intrigued” as to why there remained speculation around his position as party leader when his tenure as Taoiseach ends.
Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar will then assume the role for the remainder of the historic coalition involving his party, Fianna Fáil and the Greens.
Mr Martin said he had already stated his intention to remain as party leader into the next general election, which is expected in four years’ time.
“I am intrigued as to how this has developed into a storyline,” Mr Martin responded when asked whether he would still be at the helm come the next poll.
“Yes, I’ve said this before, I am on the record as saying I intend to lead Fianna Fáil into the next election, yes.”
On the potential of a Cabinet reshuffle this year, Mr Martin said his priority was focusing on Government priorities.
“I’m not contemplating a reshuffle this early in the Dáil,” he said.
“The ministers are doing well in my view.
“I think Michael McGrath is doing an excellent job in public expenditure.
“Darragh O’Brien has brought great energy to housing.
“Norma Foley has been, in my view, very effective in reopening the schools, on that and many other issues.”
The Taoiseach said Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly had already delivered significant improvements in health service delivery.
He also credited Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue for leading in efforts to support fishing communities set to be affected by Brexit.
“I think we’ve a strong ministerial team and they’re performing in respect of their particular portfolios,” he added.
Mr Martin removed the party whip from senators Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt and Niall Blaney after they attended the Golfgate dinner – an event staged in apparent variance with strict Covid guidelines on limiting the size of indoor gatherings.
Asked whether he was prepared to welcome the senators back into the party fold, Mr Martin said it would be considered “early” in 2021.