Could Micheal Martin can be the next Jack Lynch?

On Sunday night last I accepted Slugger’s invitation to wrote a piece on why Michael Martin can be the next Jack Lynch.

The task seemed quite straightforward and timely. November 10 was the anniversary of Lynch’s first election (in 1966) as Taoiseach, what better opportunity to compare the two Corkmen and reflect on their similarities.

Yet, almost two days after accepting the request, I was still finding it difficult to write the piece.

So why the problem?

Without a doubt there are many similarities between the two leaders.

Aside from the obvious fact that both hail from the Southern capital, though notably from different sides of the city, Lynch being a Northsider and hero of the Glen Rovers in Blackpool and Martin being a loyal Southsider, the two men have many other traits in common.

Both exhibited a leadership style that was more “Chairman than Chief”, to use the great phrase coined by the late Prof Brian Farrell. Similarly both men could be said to encapsulate the notion of the iron fist in the velvet glove.

At various times in their careers others made the error of mistaking their soft spokenness and calm nature for weakness and lack of resolve.

While the iron fist could be produced when absolutely necessary, some might say a little later than necessary, their more endearing, gentler ‘velvet glove’ gave both a personal likeability and approachability that made them less unattractive to non committed or soft FG or Lab voters, particularly women voters – though the evidence for this could be argued to be more anecdotal than statistical.

That said, it was Bertie Ahern who achieved the onetime seemingly impossible task of making Fianna Fáil less transfer repellent.

So, why the difficulty in writing this piece?

Well, I suppose the main one is that problems Martin faces are of such a magnitude and an unprecedented nature that it seems unfair to burden him with the mantle of being the next Lynch, Lemass… or whoever.

While Lynch had his considerable tests and challenges, not least the battle to hold Fianna Fáil together in the wake of the start of the ‘Troubles’ and the mire of the Arms Trials, his task was merely to bring the party back from the brink of schism – Martin’s is greater. He needs to rebuild and remake a party that all but ceased to exist. While it survived organisationally, with its constituency structures intact, it was close on annihilated politically.
But not only are the tasks facing the two men different, so too are the tools available to them. Whatever the difficulties he faced, Lynch had something Martin does not have: a critical mass.

By that I mean that Lynch still had a party with a wider leadership and parliamentary structure to withstand attack. As Dr Paddy Hillery said at the 1971 Ard Fheis when answering the challenge from Kevin Boland’s supporters: “if ye ever succeeded in getting rid of one of us (in the leadership) there’ll be more of us… And we’ll keep coming”.

That is not a luxury Martin enjoys. While Lynch could depend on a range of strong and established political heavyweights to help such as Paddy Hillery, George Colley, Des O’Malley, Joe Brennan, Brian Lenihan and Gerry Collins – Fianna Fáil’s deeply depleted parliamentary ranks leaves fewer people with whom to share the burden.

This contrast in circumstances is not the only difference between the two men. Unlike Lynch, who might be said to have wandered into politics, Martin sought out a political career, one underpinned by a very deep and sincere commitment to both Fianna Fáil and constitutional republicanism. His deep knowledge of Irish political history is most evident when it comes to Northern Ireland and his highlighting of Fianna Fáil’s credentials as the centre of gravity of Irish republicanism.

While Lynch presided over a far more experienced and weighty parliamentary party, it did not stop him looking outside the party and its traditional hinterland for new talent and new policy approaches – though admittedly not always successfully, as evidenced by aspects of the 1977 Manifesto.

Nonetheless, Lynch – who had served as a researcher for the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and a speech writer for de Valera when first elected as a TD – managed to build around him a campaign team that was policy focussed and that combined the experience of a party grandee such as Sen Eoin Ryan with the youthful dynamism of a new General Secretary, Seamus Brennan. Brennan, aged 25, took over the role in 1973 from the veteran Tommy Mullins.

The decimation wrought by the 2011 election not only thinned the parliamentary ranks, it massively reduced the backroom support staff needed to run a modern major party.

Resources are scarce and HQ personnel are over stretched, so Martin and Fianna Fáil must look not just to the party’s still large number of activists and volunteers but to others much further afield. It needs to add to, not replace. It needs to bring in new voices and approaches and open itself up to those outside the artificial beltway around Kildare St and Mount St.

But the problem goes deeper than than that.

Martin’s Fianna Fáil faces the dilemma that a significantly larger segment of public broadly backs its policy approach than is prepared to back it. Many of those who support what are in essence Fianna Fáil policies; detest Fianna Fáil, leaving Fine Gael and Independents as net beneficiaries.

Being detested and despised is nothing new in politics, neither is recovering from it, but it’s not the nature of the problem that’s the difficulty, it is the scale of it. So it is too with the response – the critical factor is the scale.

So, can Michael Martin be the next Jack Lynch?

Given their similarities, the answer is probably yes – but given the magnitude of the task he still faces Martin needs to both channel the talents of Lynch and other of his illustrious predecessors and still bring in new skills, new approaches and new people.

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  • Arthur Renfrew

    Could/Can? ehh…? No. He won’t get the chance to buy the votes again.

  • disqus_7XeFokRE9B

    Try starting the piece with. Two Langers from Cork who mislead the Citizens.

  • Michael-Henry Mcivor

    Fianna Fáil should be making hay while there sun is supposed to be shinning – instead they are in the same damp spell as Fine Gael at the moment- the one thing Jack Lynch Sean Leamass etc did not have to worry about was a voter Friendly Sinn Fein- Michael Martin has this worry and it could lead to a shotgun wedding with Fine Gael to keep up appearances then a Quick divorce a while later when they will both lose custody of the Government –

  • tmitch57

    Lynch was a sports celebrity quite well known from his days on the playing fields. Martin doesn’t have that going for him.

  • Malus Ultor

    The only way Fianna Fáil will get a sniff of power again is if Sinn Féin permits them too.

    Fine Gael are so toxic that they will be lucky to win 10 seats in the next Gen Election.

    As for labour! Labour are the new Greens.

    The Shinners and the Independents hold the aces, it just a question of how will they play them.

  • Jag

    “On Sunday night last I accepted Slugger’s invitation to wrote a piece on why Michael Martin can be the next Jack Lynch.”

    It’s “write” and it’s “Micheal” and that is the greatest load of blowhardery that I’ve wasted a couple of minutes on for a long time. Vapid, generalised wank.

    If the FFers are going to make their move on MM then they have another 3-4 months, in order to establish the credentials of his successor. FF still has the party architecture, that was showcased at the locals in May, and in the south, that structure is exponentially superior to the Shinners, but they don;t have the parliamentary presence, they don’t have clear policies and MM is like an albatross around their necks who keeps dragging them back to the malgovernance of the 2000s.

  • FF finished the biggest party in both May elections in 2014. Why would they need SF to gain power?

  • Malus Ultor

    According to five Independent polls that were carried out lately they’ll be lucky to hit double figures.

    FF got us into this mess, FG exacerbated it. They are both cut from the same cloth, keep the rich – rich and the poor – poor.

    Now Big John, if you can’t comprehend that, or if you are unable to fathom it, that most certainly is not my problem, that is entirely yours.

    I suggest night classes.

  • Croiteir

    A good and honest piece from a dyed in the wool supporter. I agree on the most part. Martin is the skilled manager that you need to steady the ship, he has done well in keeping a devasted party together in the face of what seemed to be a destruction, or so it seems. The tour of the country was a mater stroke, it allowed the troops to voice their spleen over the way the party was managed and thus kept them instead of them leaving in disgust. He has made mistakes. In appointing Area reps I think he has caused local difficulties which are yet to play out, it appears that anyone without external genitalia and is liberal is in, otherwise you are out or else will just have to do. This cannot be good, I am sure it will be seen a favouritism from on high and look at the number of people who stormed for the door at the last election. It seems to me that the dissatisfaction with central party parachuting in people was widespread.
    However on the whole he has kept the party together in extremely difficult conditions. And should be commended for that.
    I think that the stabilisation period is over. To switch metaphor from sea to land I think that if FF do not come out of the bunkers soon they will be overwhelmed anyway.
    They need to get the urban working class, especially in Dublin, no specifically in Dublin. They cannot win the country if they cannot win in Dublin. The capital is that important. And they have lost the working class in Dublin, I cannot see how they can win that back. Too much of the Galway Tent smear exists for that. The Dublin working class no longer identify with FF. If they cannot win with David McGuinness in Lenihan’s old seat it is bad too for the middle class Dublin vote.
    Out in the country things are not good also, the last bye-elections show that, if you lose in Athlone/Longford, home of Mammy and Albert, things are not good. Bearing in mind that Eamon O’Cuiv has been giving excellent representation of rural affairs it shows how fragile the vote and also transfers are rurally. But the need to have more following O’Cuiv’s example.
    (This incidentally makes me want to comment on FF vote management. In the face of slick vote management from the likes of SF they are just amateurs, did you see the difference in the Euro results for the South, the gap between Crowley and the Hartley? It was just ridiculous and the same is replicated throughout the country from councils up. Just amateur.)

    This is were I believe the difference lies between Lynch and Martin. Lynch took the playing field mentality into politics, he could attack.

    Martin is not a good attacker.

    He has misused the north as an attempt to stick it up Sinn Fein with numerous speeches and press releases. It has just looked ridiculous, as ridiculous as the so called entrance into northern politics has been. Sure it has given us all a laugh but the whole episode just showed the bankruptcy of the party as a republican party nd the lack of Martin’s ability to move forward.

    Lynch was able to carry off the Arms Crises so skilfully that FF people were able to arm the nationalist people, escape censure, engage with the British, keep influence in nationalist circles in the north intact, (a legacy which existed until Haughey of all people threw a strop over losing a seat in Monaghan to a hunger striker and thus helped SF into politics, the irony is wonderful, bad move Charlie). Sure he lost some people along the way to Aontacht Éireann but nothing too significant.

    Martin cannot even land a punch on Sinn Fein with the Mairia Cahill affair or FG with the water issue. Lynch would have tore them to pieces.

    So no – Martin is not a Lynch. He has not needed to be for the sake of FF. But now you de need a Lynch, an attacker who knows how to take the team with him.
    I am afraid if it does not happen soon then FF are going to be increasingly pressed between SF and FG in the medium to long term.
    Martin is no Lynch, and FF now needs a Lynch.

  • ted hagan

    Your headline has gone a bit wonky