Micheal Martin’s strength is his early adaption to FF’s changed circumstances

So, Brian Crowley has gone his own way. Choosing a political grouping that contained the British Conservative party was eccentric and perhaps eccentric enough to mute any widespread criticism of Micheal Martin within the wider party.

In the Irish Times Mary Minihan makes a brief assay of where the party is. She makes an important point here:

Unlike some of his egotistical lieutenants, Mr Martin was an early-adaptor, absorbing the scale and shock of seat losses incurred in 2011 and understanding that only a show of unity could bring the party back from the brink.

Although I’ve met quite a few FFers over the years, only a few have been encounters in purely party guise. The first was in the wake of the Cavan Monaghan count in 2011, when I heard one activist muttering to colleagues, ‘now it’s time to show our teeth‘.

For a party of ‘soldiers’ unused to defeat they don’t take it well. Some of the party’s vestigial military instinct long still survives the ditching of its older slightly constitutional means.

But in the distinctly ‘non Boss’ Martin they have sort of weirdly lucked out.

  1. He’s the one sellable vestige of the last government. Non FF people like him. Even if they feel burned by what that last government did to them, he’s a living reminder of some of its more lasting achievements, like the smoking ban and (for now at least) the Belfast Agreement.
  2. The electorate largely did for the most disliked of his old Fianna Fail government colleagues.
  3. Whatever else he is guilty of, it is not trying to fight the last battle. He knows that right now, they remain a small party. He swept aside all talk of leading government pointing out the party remains in insufficient standing to start talking terms.

He’s had a turbulent week and a half. Niall Collins, his justice spokesman, got pinged for writing a clemency letter for the wrong sort of criminal (see Harry McGee for one of the saner treatments of that story).

Martin has two prime factors which have stilled the hand of his party critics. Most obviously perhaps, there’s no one else in the parliamentary party with the stature to take over (O Cuiv’s early rebellion, for example, was quickly quashed).

If that was all, he might face trouble anyway (think of the drift in the SDLP for a handy comparison?). But his strategic trump within the party has been the council results.

Whatever the polls tell us about the overall mood of the country (and the EP polls almost exactly match their reading of national sentiment) in local representatives, Fianna Fail topped (if not by much) all other parties in the Republic.

Power in the Republic generates upwards as well as down and under STV PR new councillors generate new Dail seats. Whilst it is true that the party is only just above where it was in 2009, the landscape around them has changed utterly.

Ironically perhaps, the development of any positive momentum for Fianna Fail (no less than the two government parties) relies on the continuation of the country’s nascent economic recovery.

Over the next two years it will have to find a way to reverse the sheer divergence in public opinion which has led to such a massive rise in independents across the country.

His mission is probably as basic as proving that a political party (almost any political party) can deliver for ordinary people and resists that old Irish urge to trade in false expectations.

What’s missing is a shared understanding of the many problems currently besetting the country or indeed any shared sense of purpose in how to tackle themIf there’s to be a democratically engaged convergence of political opinion/action, both are needed.

The bad news for Fianna Fail is that it has so far failed to get to grips with either of these imperatives. The better news, for them if not the country, is that neither has anyone else.

Martin may be an early adaptor to his party’s changed small status. But if they are to be ambitious enough to make their way slowly back to the centre of Ireland’s political life much greater adaption is needed.



  • Roy Walsh

    A good analysis Mick. One key fact Micheal Martin and Fianna Fail have, so far, failed to realise is, Micheal Martin is likely to be the first
    Uachtaran Fianna Fail who is not destined to be Taoiseach.
    He is, comparatively, the Neil Kinnoch of Fianna Fail as they deal with the new politics created by the post 2011 election and the upset caused to their previous hegemony.

  • Mick Fealty

    Thanks Roy, but I’ve acquired an aversion to ‘futuring’ per se.. Certainly the task ahead looks epic compared to Enda’s task in 2002. But I’m not sure FF have the luxury of “Kinnocking”… Irish political life is much more fluid than British politics even now…

  • John Ó Néill

    It’s not entirely clear if this has run its full course yet. Crowley was expelled from the Parliamentary Party (or removed himself, if you’re an FF-er). Crowley’s people are saying that the expulsion is technically void since the requisite three day notice wasn’t given to the Parliamentary Party before they met.
    And the National Executive have to vote two-thirds in favour to formally expel him from the party.

  • Mick Fealty

    I suspect that particular form of words was chosen specifically to uncomplicate any return. But the truth is that the future the next dial election will be fought in the customary, highly local manner.

  • Roy Walsh

    If you’re right there John, I’d say Micheal Martin will not see the end of the year as Uachtaran Fianna Fail, one political mistake is an oversight, two, in eight weeks, is incompetence.
    On the plus side for Micheal Martin is, he saved several Fianna Fail Dail seats by replacing Brian Cowen as Uachtaran, although not as Taoiseach, when he did. He is well regarded outside of his party and, again referencing Kinnock, he has done a marvelous job in reorganizing and revitalizing this party, though again he did not have a militant element to deal with, he has saved the natural party of Irish government from their forecast oblivion, frankly, despite doing only slightly better than 2009 is, for a once minister, superb given how many felt in the pre/post 2011 election period.
    The matter regarding Niall Collins is overblown, though he is the Justice spokesman, all Deputies will seek to intervene on humanitarian grounds despite the conviction, this man was a recent widower with a very young family, it happens throughout Ireland, Britain and abroad so it will blow over, the media who submit FOI questions, rather than investigate things are more to be examined than a TD.

    Ironically perhaps, the development of any positive momentum for Fianna Fail (no less than the two government parties) relies on the continuation of the country’s nascent economic recovery.
    A point made during the election by one journalist, once vehemently Fianna Fail was, it was they who did the heavy lifting in governmet, this is largely true, although it is more true that it was the working, middle earners, who did the real hard work.
    The key to success for Fianna Fail is, run an aggressive anti-austerity campaign, as ULA/SF have done for four years, in local communities, not sitting on their own in Lenister House and take the message they’re getting back to Dail Eireann and fight every sitting day for the people needing their support, do so too in the County Councils they are returning to, support the workers in SDCC and elsewhere, if Micheal Martin can direct the party in this way my comment above may be wrong but his destiny is wholly in his own hands.

  • Mick Fealty

    Yes Roy, but to say the least Fianna Fáil are not exactly in good standing so far as anti-austerity policies are concerned. I’m not so convinced that successive posturing is sufficient unto the day that’s in it, not least given the rather cynical and volatile modes of the electorate is in.

  • Roy Walsh

    I’m simply passing on my thinking on how best the party, blamed in the main, for the economic crisis, led by one of those who sat round the cabinet table during the slide to economic disaster, might begin to make their way back to 40% support, frankly, 25% support would please most of them but, without a dramatic change to how they perform on the ground this is not going to happen.
    They have, to some extent, repaired the fences broken between 2008 and 2011, ably assisted by the Labour party’s support for economic hardship imposed directly onto their natural support base, but, if you spend time observing the dialouge in the Dail chamber, the real stars are Gerry, Mary Lou and Pearse.
    A programmer on RTE some weeks ago told the tale of representative politics, one Dublin Deputy, I think it was Matthews, when he couldn’t get a social assistance grant for the mother of a disabled man, simply stated it wasn’t possible, Aengus O Snodaigh on the other hand went all out to deliver what his constituent needed in social assistance. Herein lies the difference, herein lies the success of Sinn Fein, unless Micheal Martin can transform his Councilors, Deputies and party activists to what they were in the late 80’s then he’s going nowhere but his ministerial and Dail pension, a little like Kinnoch.

  • Bishops Finger

    Roy Walsh (profile) 25 June 2014 at 6:38 pm
    The matter regarding Niall Collins is overblown, though he is the Justice spokesman, all Deputies will seek to intervene on humanitarian grounds despite the conviction, this man was a recent widower with a very young family, it happens throughout Ireland, Britain and abroad so it will blow over,

    So, Roy, do you believe that a drug dealer is a good role model and substitute mother for four young children?

  • Mick Fealty


    Here’s what McGee says about it [link above]…

    In this instance the defence barrister drew the court’s attention to the constituent’s unfortunate circumstance: that the dealer was the sole carer of four children following the death by suicide of their mother earlier this year. The question is was it appropriate or necessary for the Fianna Fáil justice spokesman to do the same. The answer is no; and he apologised for it yesterday.

    But there is something that is at least a little commendable in what was done. The man was not a constituent and there was no political gain for Collins in writing the letter. The four children also have rights under the Constitution and under law. Their mother died this year and the question of their their welfare and their care is not an irrelevant one. It would be impossible for anyone except the most bitter cynic not to believe Collins’s motivation was compassionate, driven by concern for the children. But like so many politicians before who have written such letters, and made representations, he had not fully thought through the consequences.

    The man was convicted of being in possession for sale or supply of cannabis with a value of over €18,000. It’s not a minor offence, but it is certainly not egregious in nature. Unfortunately there are numerous examples of politicians who have made representations on behalf of convicted rapists, and have been pilloried for it when the knowledge became public.

    In my view, he should have stayed well clear, even if some of his most trenchant critics have less than clean hands in this regard themselves. Handy enough to contribute to a short run of bad headlines for FF (which they have remarkably dodged for some time, but I don’t get a sense that it’s going anywhere serious…

  • Jagdip

    I think MM will survive another few months, but must say I have never seen such a weak public performance as this week. He’s like a zombie in the Dail, can’t string an effective argument together and looks winded.

    We tend to think of MM’s departure being forced upon him, I wonder how he himself sees his future of compromised Opposition (Enda Kenny’s constant refrain is “you have some brass neck given what you did as health minister/senior member of FF”), or disgraced junior coalition partner with FG.

    If this week is anything to go by, MM might be considering taking the initiative himself and resigning.

    Off-topic, any chance of a thread on media reporting of the 2014 middening season. We could count how many times “fury” gets abused, for example, and reflect how the old media is whipping up a mood on the streets which provokes unrest which ultimately sells newspapers.

  • Mick Fealty

    Is that another prediction you won’t be admitting to when it doesn’t happen Jag? 😉

  • Roy Walsh

    Bishops Finger, I think Mick’s post makes the point I was, again, it is the sort of thing which Deputies all over Ireland and elsewhere engage in, and long have, indeed Robert Simpson did so in the six county parliament where the convicted man had no caring responsibilities.
    Rather than pointlessly picking holes, why not comment on the issue, has Micheal Martin done a good or poor job in reorganizing a very battered political party?

  • Jagdip

    @Mick, so you’re one of those purists who judge predictions strictly in terms of matching outcomes?! As opposed to realists who at least partially judge the quality of predictions by the scope of issues considered.
    Not sure what prediction you’re harping on about now anyway – that we’ll have another summer of discontent? That’s hardly an original prediction; there will be unrest, there will be public disorder, there will be criminal damage, there will be PSNI injuries, there will be arrests, it’s just a question of how much, how severe and how many.

  • Mick Fealty

    Not at all, I don’t do them often, but I Think it’s useful to ‘own’ them afterwards whether you are right or wrong.

    So why do you think Martin is still there (when you so confidently predicted his demise in such a scenario?)

  • Jagdip

    @Mick, simple, the FF performance in the local elections saved the day for MM’s disaster of the Euros.It allowed MM to claim a victory “the biggest party at local level”, the solid performance also of Mammy O’Rourke’s boy in Longford Westmeath means FF will get one seat there next time also.

    So, MM should have been toast based on Euro results but other contemporaneous results mean he’s slightly browned rather than soot-black.

  • Roy Walsh

    Correct Jagdip, but it did happen so he’s got that to save him.
    With this in place he can continue, for now. However, should any more Mary Hanafin’s or Brian Crowley’s raise their heads then he may well be toast, his performance in an Dail though is, and has been, excellent when dealing with his opposite numbers, Kenny and Gilmore but I do think he need raise his game outside an Dail but, for the Fianna Fail party the question must be, who to replace him with if there are any more cock up’s? Michael McGrath or perhaps Dara Calleary, neither of whom are tainted with “Bank guarantee’ crap, I’d suspect Collins cannot now put himself forward but, all that said, for now at least, Martin is there and ’til at least 2015, is safely there, after all, the over long Dail holiday is coming up so lack of ‘cock up’ opportunity.

  • Jhon

    The matter concerning Niall Collins is overblown, although he is the Justice
    spokesman, all Deputies will search to intervene on humanitarian grounds despite
    the conviction, this man was a current widower with a very young family, it
    occurs throughout Ireland, Britain and overseas so it should blow over
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