Is Micheál Martin the kernel of Fianna Fáil nua?

Cute fox you might say. But Micheal Martin is undoubtedly a shrewd operator. He survived Bertie’s attempt to destroy him by giving him the politically murderous health portfolio earlier in his ministerial career.

In this last passage of play, if he did anything at all that was right, it was to serve his resignation as Minster of Foreign Affairs and, crucially, go through with it.

It contrasts markedly with the party’s shambling ‘we’ve had tough decisions to make, so don’t ask stupid questions’ routine of the last three years. If you are looking for what ‘New Fianna Fail’ may look like, we may have to look no further.

His two main rivals (Brian Lenihan and Mary Hanafin acquiesced or tried to finesse their opposition to the Taoiseach, and may have dealt their leadership prospects a fatal blow. Here’s Hanafin’s mangled account of her actions:

The Tourism and Culture Minister Mary Hanafin has said she did not vote for Brian Cowen in last night’s confidence motion. But Ms Hanafin said she always had confidence in him as Taoiseach and was only deciding on his position as Fianna Fáil leader.

And here’s the unfortunate Brian Lenihan’s complex gaffe (which he would have got away with if hadn’t been for that ‘Meddling Carlow Kilkenny Kid’), courtesy of Lise Hand:

Brian chose to remind the country of some of his leader’s low-points.

“I make no secret of the fact that I was unhappy with what happened down in Galway in connection with the interview and with recent developments in relation to a game of golf he had,” said Brian.

Then he proceeded with the arduous business of backing Biffo.

But what about the belief among some of the Foot-soldiers of Destiny that he had been fomenting rebellion? Brian was aghast at the suggestion.

“I made it clear at all stages that I was very flattered at their interest in me being leader of the party,” he explained, “but I made it clear that current financial matters made it impossible for me to disrupt the good working relationship.”

You see, he was Lenny the Little Engine Who could. He was too busy saving the economy to save his party. Well, very shortly afterwards poor Lenny certainly had egg on his face.

Within minutes Carlow-Kilkenny deputy and Cowen critic John McGuinness was spitting nails all over the airwaves. “He did encourage dissent, he did encourage us to look at the numbers,” the rebel all-but yelled.

Lenny insisted anyone who thought he was part of any plot was sorely mistaken, but some of the backbench blood was up.

There’s an unmistakable air of Kipling about all of this. The internal panic, so much in evidence over the last week inside Fianna Fail is probably as much a function of Pearse Doherty’s foreshortening of the current government’s horizons in forcing a humiliating bye election in Donegal South West as anything else.

Health scares aside, I wouldn’t dismiss Lenihan or Hanafin emerging as contenders. But their judgement and tone is unlikely to appeal in what will likely be a very different political market post election.

That will be not least because the biggest political name on the opposition benches will be one Gerard Adams, who unlike the leading contenders has an international profile.

There seems little doubt the number superiority should lie with Fianna Fail. But the south’s Republican Party, will face the battle of its life since it split away from the original Sinn Fein back in March 1926.

Tone and experience will matter more than it ever has. And a decent recovery between now and election day, so they can keep their distance from a youthful and talented new Sinn Fein intake.

Interesting times ahead…

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  • Munsterview

    Mick F : Is Micheál Martin the kernel of Fianna Fáil nua?

    No he is not!

    Is Micheal the rallying standard for the survivalist element in Fianna Fail, is perhaps putting the question a little clear and in proper context. Martin like Cowen is ‘fior’ Fianna Fail and he will not admit to the fundamentals of policy being wrong since the last election, being wrong at present or the need to drastically change for the future.

    Martins Fianna Fail plans are not so much about change as they are about damage limitation. It is a matter of putting out the FF house fire, salvaging the possessions and rebuilding the party residence pretty much as it was !

    Micheal learned his local politics under ‘ flogger Wallace’ and Gus Healy etc who in turn bridged the Dev generation with the Martin generation. Micheal is mainstream, true to Fianna Fail in genes and instinct. The instinct is overridden only by his own need for political self preservation.

    There was of will be nothing ‘Nua’ about Martins leadership no more than, for those who know him, there is anything novel about the way he conducted himself in the Leadership stakes. He has not burned any bridges behind him, unlike Lenihan he has not pissed off any significant section of the party and all his future options are open.

    As with time and time again in his career, to outsiders he appeared indecisive, vacillating and laking the killer instinct. Yet again when the smoke cleared Micheal is in a better place and those contesting with him have found themselves off side.

    Take Health, it was not all the poison chalice that it looked. Micheal in his Ministerial way up had a a woman who was also one of the most effective organizers I ever met for his back room organizer and strategist.

    She knew the medical profession well, its strength and its weakness, she had worked inside it. Her tragic loss in a road accident devastated all of us who knew her and I will never forget seeing a rare glimpse of the real Michael at her funeral. All the Ministers, TD’s and Councillors I spoke to that day confirmed how devastated Michael and his wife were as she was like another family member.

    Her loss also knocked back his personal organization and career advancement, but there was never any doubt that sooner or later Micheal was going for leadership……. but only if the circumstances were right.

    The circumstances may not now be right for him, but these circumstances could not be ignored either, so he moved, nothing spectacular, that is not the Martin way. just sufficient to consolidate his advancement without, as I have already posted, causing any unnecessary turmoil.

    Some sections of the party already considered Lenihan too clever by half and a user : another tranche of the party are now very annoyed with him, Martin gave him the space to do that to himself. Mary Hanafin when compared to Mary from Donegal or ‘Mother’ Mary is seen to be a light weight and of no consequences. She fluffed it good and proper this time around and she have every reason to be concerned about her seat.

    Survival is the name of the game in politics : there is a serious threat to Michael’s own seat that he could not address as Minister for Foreign affairs, but as Michael Martin TD he can now do just that and mind the shop in his constituency without any adverse publicity in the media for it.

    As Tipp O’Neill said all politics are local, when his Ministerial FF colleagues are gad flying all over the world this St Patricks day Michael will be on the review stand in the in South Mall with every reason to smile for the cameras.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’m not sure that Martin read this at all well. He appears to have overestimated the party’s desire to change its leader at this stage, and as such has seen himself isolated as some kind of fringe maverick.

    Biffo’s trick was an old and tested one, most recently used around these parts by John Major in 1995 who resigned as Conservative Party leader, forcing the party to re-elect him in order to silence the Eurosceptics at the time who were undermining his position. Stalin also did this in the early 1940s, withdrawing from power and resigning after committing a series of dire mistakes, forcing the Politburo to re-elect him and reinforce his position as leader.

    Leaders who do this emerge strengthened and reinvigorated as those who would oppose them are caught off guard and don’t have the time to properly mount a challenge. Past errors have a line drawn under them.

    I’m not sure that any of this will wash with the electorate, but it will certainly put a stop to sniping within Fianna Fail.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Martin like Cowen is ‘fior’ Fianna Fail and he will not admit to the fundamentals of policy being wrong since the last election, being wrong at present or the need to drastically change for the future.

    Munsterview, do you think that this is about policy ? Do you believe that’s what FF were elected on ?


    I like the Irish Democrats plan for an executive Presidential government where the executive is chosen from experts at large as done in the USA as opposed to having choose from a narrow field of politicos. As for Mr Martin, he who wields the sword seldom wears the crown. Mind you, Maggie Thatcher did in ousting Heath but that was in opposition. Do we know how Mr Martin would lead FF differently? it’s all careerism

  • Comrade Stalin

    I like the Irish Democrats plan for an executive Presidential government where the executive is chosen from experts at large as done in the USA

    Like that worked out well. Dubya ?

  • Greenflag

    Experts at what ? Creating world economic chaos ? Running up over 3 .5 trillion dollars in two wars expensed on the national credit card -emisserating tens of millions from the American middle class -creating an extra 15 million unemployed and wiping out the value of half of American’s retirement savings and all at the same time as rewarding the robber bankers and hedge fund gamblers with billions in bonuses ?

    Now I understand that President Obama is mainly preoccupied with trying to clean up the dirt of a couple of decades of American policy failures both foreign and domestic but without sounding too churlish If it’s okay with the Irish Democrats I think we in Ireland need to look elsewhere for the solution to our long standing ‘economic ‘ problems than to the USA and I’d suggest a similar course of action for the USA 😉

  • pippakin

    Micheal Martin may have been planning more for after the election than before, certainly he has done his reputation no harm and he has shown the grass roots a glimpse of a possible future.

  • Munsterview

    comrad S : ” I’m not sure that Martin read this at all well. He appears to have overestimated the party’s desire to change its leader at this stage, and as such has seen himself isolated as some kind of fringe maverick”

    Micheal confirmed to-day what all political insiders and Pol. Corrs. already knew, that FF backbenchers were in dialogue with him expressing their concerns about Cowens leadership for over a year. He has had a whole year to think this through on that admission alone this was no overnight thing. Those who know Micheal, l know that he has been thinking an moving to this position since he went into National politics.

    The last heave debacle could have happened as you outlined but the consensus from those I have been in contact with is that it just happened and Cowen’s first reaction when faced with the heave was not to fight it.

    Once the game was afoot Martin could not stand back and I do not need to repeat my arguments here.

    CS : “Munsterview, do you think that this is about policy ? Do you believe that’s what FF were elected on ? ” Oh yes CS, it was all about policy, the FF policy of keeping the boot to the floor , the construction industry moving and the cash flowing into FF coffers while providing ‘get rich quick’ schemes.

    This was is a perfect illustration of what was happening in the top elechons of crony capitalism.

    From ‘small builders’ selling houses at muntiples of 1,2, or three times their building cost right up to the likes of these people, all were in on the take. I know of investment properties in Bulgaria of all places bought and sold four and five times, each sale quicker that the contracts could be drawn up, and on a deposid paid only, with the last person on the chain left holding the baby when the markets collapsed.

    It had got to the stage where one bank was providing the deposid while another provided the loan, all that was needed for ‘an investement’ was neck and connections.

    All Irish banks were providing capital for this madness and the FF facilitators made it all possible. Unaccounted for and unrecorded millions were sloshing around for almost two decades and with that sort of money sloshing around most of the ‘enforcers’ were bought and paid for.

    What we have learned of corruption in the past few year is not even the tip of the iceberg ! We are also unlikely to ever learn anything like the scale of the squandermania invilved.In Colum Tobins book ‘ Bad Blood….a walk along the Border’ ( picador ed reprint 2010) in p99 he describes an already wealthy industrialist with hundreds working for him, playing the stockmarket in 1987 for what at that stage were tens of thousands.

    This became millions and then billions and no body shouted stop! Twenty bloody years of advance warning before this man did ‘The Biggie’ and left Anglo and ultametly this and generations yet unborn of Irish citizens holding the financial baby.

    Fianna Fail have a lot of decent people on the ground, many of them are my cultural and other friends. Other than getting possibly a soft housing or car loan, they were not involved, they went to work, went to mass, put their kids through school, looked after their communities and did all the rest of the things normal people everywhere do.

    I gave all my adult life opposing FF but I have far too many decent friends in the organization at ground level to exult in the collapse of the organization. I do not see Micheal Martin as a saviour of FF, he knew what was happening and went along with it for decades, he cannot wash his hands of the past now.

    If Cowen cannot arrest the collaps prior to the election, then the leadership will probably skip a generation to somebody without even ministerial experience. Try one of Martin’s backers Michael Moynihan for size and you read it here first!

  • John Ó Néill

    A couple of interesting developments today – there are now five senior ministries vacant. The Greens are venting that they want an election by the end of March*, but we were here before (when the election was to be in January, i.e. this month, which clearly is at least two months out).

    I think MV is right in many respects – we’ve passed so far off the end of the graph that many of FFs own people simply can’t grasp where things are really at. Mick accused me of a conspiracy theory too far on another [related] thread – but I think we have now passed beyond uncharted waters into another, fairly surreal, dimension.

    Bottom line – and not an off the wall question – if Gormley gets offered a Tanaiste-shaped bauble in the re-shuffle to placate Na Glasraí, in what year do you think the election will be?

    * according to tweetista Dan Boyle, they don’t want an election in April, May or June but, technically, that could mean in March or July or later.

  • Mick Fealty

    I just don’t buy conspiracy theories generally John, so whatever it was I said, it won’t have been intended to have been personal…

    In my experience they are too often an ideological short cut that lead one into la la land…

    Besides, this is all getting well into the familiar realm of fundamental cock up… Elevation of an emotionally blunt Finance Minister by group acclamation to the top job…

    Robo’s likely to be the only man stand of ‘the brave three’ in very short order…

    On topic again, Martin’s cute (he has to be to survive at that level intact) and emotionally intelligent… They are getting to the point of no return.

    That base has to be awakened, and soon of FF may become history…

    These resignations are pointing in just one direction… Martin’s day may come sooner than any of us expected…

  • Munsterview

    No bets on that one John!

    Brian Cowen had fun slagging off the opposition to day on the ‘No Confidence’ motion and gave his benches a good laugh as he mocked Labour and Kenny.

    On Joe Duffy yesterday a separated woman with two children told how she was without electricity for weeks, including cut off all during the recent cold spell. All her christmas food perishables had spoiled and she was going to bed at five OC in the evening with her kids as without electricity she had no central heating. Joe paid her bill from the RTE charity fund subscribed to by listeners.

    To day while Cowen was slagging off in the Dail and his backbench’s were rolling around with laughter, a man with an infected tooth came on. He had been in severe pain for days but could not afford treatment. After his story went out a dentist volunteered his services.

    This morning another man, a construction worker sitting in jeep in his own driveway prepared to go to work realized he had left something behind and went back indoors. Some gurrier made off with his Jeep and tools.

    The Guards were informed but could do the proverbial sweet f all. He went on Joe Duffy, a listener alert was put out and his jeep with the tools thankfully still in it was located. The listener alerted the Gardai and watched over the Vehicle until they came.

    This is cut back life for ordinary people, the Nation is listening to a litany of these stories all afternoon and then in the evening news on comes Cowen laughing and joking without a bother on him slagging off the opposition, playing to the gallery and entertaining his own back benches.

    This is the level of disc-connect between Lienster House shenanigans and ordinary life’s. There is no significant recovery for Fianna Fail possible, even their own decent people are disgusted with the top antics. Like Noel wheelan, I also believe that there is no floor to how far they can fall.

    Another important milestone was passed today by Cowen…… he taunted Labour with their Democratic Left past, not a lot but just enough to let them know that if they played rough then he would play dirty!

    I would be very surprised indeed if Cowen do not already have the files on ‘Fundraising’ ‘Funny Money’ and other such things from the ‘Old Days’. All the current mid rank and top brass in the park were promoted under FF patronage and these things are a two way street!

    There is another characteristic of Fianna Fail not referred to here so far in this debate, they are dangerous when cornered. More than a few now realize they are just that, cornered, so this is going to get very down and dirty folks.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Oh yes CS, it was all about policy, the FF policy of keeping the boot to the floor , the construction industry moving and the cash flowing into FF coffers while providing ‘get rich quick’ schemes.

    That’s not “policy”. Policy is whatever is in the party’s manifesto. You talked about “policy being wrong since the last election”; FF have been doing the construction/corruption/etc thing for decades. You’re not making a lot of sense here.

    It’s not policy, or the lack of it, that went wrong since the last election. It’s corruption and cronyism and the associated mismanagement of the economy. I might add that a lot of that, such as the highly visible approach of basing a significant proportion of the government’s tax revenue on stamp duty, was endorsed by the electorate.

    I gave all my adult life opposing FF

    I think you have an over-inflated sense of your own importance with silly comments like this.

  • Comrade Stalin

    It’s corruption and cronyism and the associated mismanagement of the economy.

    I meant to add that this has been FF’s approach for a few decades and that people endorsed it as they didn’t see that the economy was being left unprotected against bumps in the global markets.

  • John Ó Néill

    @ Mick/conspiracy theories

    The conspiracy theory wasn’t too severe – Martin’s heave was so dispassionate that it looked like a deal had been cut to take the steam out of it (and it, conveniently, rather than the Anglo story, held the front pages). At a macro level I can’t see any reason for FF to go to the polls if they can avoid it. They may be dangerous when cornered, but they also have the combination of shamelessness and craftiness – Cowen is meeting Gormley this morning – he still has Healy-Rae and Lowry onside, if he can find a deal to cut with the Greens (who equally can’t be excited by the idea of an election) only the High court stands between FF and a year or so to try and stage a recovery of sorts.

    So, joking apart, I would no longer be surprised if the next stories are Tanaiste Gormley and a constitutional challenge to the authority of the High Court to rule on by-elections and a 2012 election it is…

  • Munsterview

    Quotes of the day so far from the 12.30 early news

    1)…… Fianna Fail backbencher ” Whatever chance I have of being re-elected as a humble backbencher, I would be stoned if I appeared in my constituency in a ministerial car ”

    2) ……. ” Some Fianna Fail backbenchers have their phones off and have made themselves scares to avoid being offered a Minister for State of Ministerial job”

    3)……. ” This is chaos, it is political theater, no it is no longer theater, it is pantomime “

  • pippakin

    Stirring stuff! Cowen tried to pull a fast one and the Greens said no. Its a bit surprising that Cowen didn’t check with the Greens first, or it would be if it was anyone else.

    In the end the difference is not life and death but a couple of weeks from when most people expected the election to be held.

    SF must now try and gain as many FF votes as they can. I’m not sure that will be as easy as some are making it sound.