From hero to zero. That seems to be the perennial fate of Micheál Martin, despite ten years of certain newspapers and commentators talking up his political acumen. Not much of that skill or knowledge was on display in the recent general election and even less so since then. And it seems that some elected representatives of Fianna Fáil have finally admitted to themselves that the Cork South-Central TD and the “unelected” advisers he surrounds himself with are just not up to the job. And arguably never have been. Today’s Irish Times highlights reports of a minority of FF deputies sharpening their knives as they grow increasingly frustrated with the push for a coalition government with Fine Gael while Martin and company continues to hammer Sinn Féin in the press.
After a few weeks of relative calm since the general election, the fear and tension in Fianna Fáil burst into the open last Thursday at a meeting of the parliamentary party. The prelude was an interview with Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio that morning in which party leader Micheál Martin admitted, in almost a smothered way, that Fianna Fáil was willing to forge a coalition with Fine Gael and might be open to the idea of a revolving taoiseach.
Some TDs were taken aback and later vented their frustration at the election campaign and at the trenchant stance taken by Martin over Sinn Féin.
There were some who were critical including Jackie Cahill from Tipperary and the Westmeath TD Robert Troy, who riled Martin after referring to the influence of Fianna Fáil’s unelected officials. Sean Fleming and Longford TD Joe Flaherty also spoke disapprovingly of the recurring criticism of Sinn Féin, describing it as counterproductive.
James Lawless pointed to the big losses sustained by the party in the commuting counties and its weak transport policies. For once, the two most vocal advocates of discussions with Sinn Féin, Eamon Ó Cuív and John McGuinness, were not lone voices.
The Irish Times spoke to more than 20 TDs and former TDs in the past week to ascertain their views on the party’s standing, future and Micheál Martin’s leadership, and on the decision to exclude Sinn Féin from government. All but two spoke on condition of anonymity.
There were mixed views on all the issues, but one clear consensus emerged: Martin was “over-obsessed” with Sinn Féin and needed to stop talking about the rival party. However, a majority of those who spoke did not favour an arrangement with Mary Lou McDonald.
And that last point is the most important one. A majority of Fianna Fáil TDanna still oppose any form of partnership government with Sinn Féin and one suspects that outside of the “green” core, most FF people in the Oireachtas would sit quite comfortably alongside their supposed Fine Gael rivals. Meanwhile the super-ambitious careerist Jim O’Callaghan is eyeing up the top job in the Soldiers of Destiny while floating the idea of a “national government”. If Martin was a failure in the job of FF president one can only imagine what the deputy for Dublin Bay South is going to do with it.