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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